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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A powerful earthquake in Baja California rocked the U.S.-Mexico border region today, collapsing a parking structure south of the border and causing power outages in both countries as it sent out seismic waves felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Arizona.
The 7.2-magnitude quake struck at 3:40 p.m. about 19 miles southeast of Mexicali, a bustling commerce center on the Mexican side of the border where trucks carrying goods cross into California. More than 900,000 people live in the greater Mexicali area.
It was the largest earthquake in the region in nearly 18 years and was followed by aftershocks or distant "triggered" earthquakes on both sides of the border, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones.
A multistory parking structure collapsed at the Mexicali city hall but no one was injured, said Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo.
Other early reports indicated only minor damage, but communication in the region more than 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles is often slow.
Hundreds of people fled Tijuana's beach fearing a tsunami, said Capt. Juan Manuel Hernandez, chief of aquatic rescue at the Tijuana fire department. Tsunami experts quickly reported that no tsunami was expected along the West Coast, and Hernandez said the beach filled back up with people within an hour.
Tijuana Fire Chief Rafael Carillo said firefighters were rescuing people trapped in an elevator at the Ticuan Hotel in downtown Tijuana, but mostly were responding to reports of fallen cables and minor damage to buildings.
The Crowne Plaza hotel in Mexicali had minor damage — burst pipes and broken windows — but no on was hurt, said receptionist Juan Carlos Fernandez.
Seismologists said there have been many earthquakes in the region including many in the magnitude-3.0 range before Sunday's big shock.
"The last time we had an earthquake this large in either Baja or California was in 1992 with the Landers Earthquake, which was 7.3," Jones said.
The USGS reported three strong aftershocks within the hour, including a magnitude-5.1 jolt in the Imperial County desert east of San Diego. Magnitude-4.5 and magnitude-4.3 aftershocks were also reported. Another occurred off Malibu.
The 7.2-magnitude quake was felt as far north as Santa Barbara, USGS seismologist Susan Potter said. It was one of the strongest to hit California in recent history. Only one has been stronger — a 7.3 quake that hit Landers, Calif., and left three dead in 1992 — and there were at least two other 7.2-magnitude quakes in the last 20 years.
Seismologists also said a number of small quakes were triggered in a geothermal area in Northern California.
More than 5,000 Southern California Edison customers were affected, mostly with about 30 seconds of flickering lights. Several hundred had longer outages.
In Arizona, 3,369 customers in the Yuma area had a "relatively momentary outage" from the quake, Arizona Public Service Company spokesman Don Wool said.
Only about 70 people were still without service in the rural Gadsden and Summerton areas.