October 31, 2007

Bay Area quake shakes valley

The strongest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta quake rattled a wide area of Northern California on Tuesday night. In Modesto and surrounding valley towns, it made ceiling fans sway, sloshed water in sinks and added excitement to a Modesto Junior College class on earthquakes, where students rushed to see the seismograph.

MODESTO -- A magnitude-5.6 earthquake shook the Bay Area on Tuesday night, and residents of Modesto and the surrounding areas felt the effects. There were no reports of serious damage or injury.

The moderate temblor struck shortly after 8 p.m., about five miles northeast of Alum Rock and nine miles northeast of San Jose, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. People reported feeling the quake, which lasted about a minute, as far east as Sacramento and as far north as Sonoma.

Residents around Modesto reported ceiling fans swaying and furniture rocking.

Dan Marsh, who lives in west Modesto, said he was washing his dishes when he saw the water slosh around. "It was quite a jolt," he said, adding that it's the biggest quake he's felt since moving to Modesto in 1967.

Mary Smith, asleep in her chair on the fourth floor at Ralston Towers, an 11-story senior housing complex near downtown Modesto, said she was awakened by a jolt.

"It shook so bad, my chair almost went all the way back," said Smith, 86. "I was wondering, 'What the heck is going on?' It was scary."

Residents of Modesto and Turlock were among more than 300 people who reported the quake on the USGS Web site by 9:30 p.m.

"From where I was sitting at the table, it kind of hit me from the back. It felt like one big push," said Jim Maya of Patterson, about 40 miles east of the epicenter.

It was one of the strongest quakes the 45-year-old ever has felt, he said.

On a scale of one to 12, Modesto Junior College Professor Garry Hayes' seismograph recorded an intensity of three.

"So a lot of people felt it, but not everyone," said Hayes, who was teaching a class about earthquakes when it hit.

"Normally everyone would run out of a building, but we were on a break and everyone ran in to see the seismograph."

Bob Redding, a dispatcher at the California Highway Patrol dispatch center in Atwater, said the office had received calls from numerous locations in the valley, but CHP had received no reports of injuries.

"When it first hit, we thought a truck might have hit our building," Redding said. "But it was just one jerk."

The epicenter of the quake was in the foothills east of San Jose -- not far from the home of Mayor Chuck Reed. Pictures fell off the walls of Reed's house, but the mayor said there was no major damage.

"It was a pretty strong ride here, a lot of shaking but nothing broken," Reed told The Associated Press. "I've talked to a few people, and we have no reports of injuries or damage. There was a lot of shaking, but it wasn't the big one."

In downtown San Jose, the quake caused a pipe to break, streaming water into the parking garage of a condo building, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

An employee at Beverages & More, a liquor store in Milpitas a few miles from the epicenter, reported a few broken wine bottles.

Allison Guimard, 25, a technology executive who lives in Mountain View, about 18 miles west of the epicenter, said her china started shaking and she grabbed her dog. It was the first significant earthquake for Guimard and her husband, Pierre, who moved to California from New York six months ago.

"It felt like the apartment was rolling -- shaking and rolling," said Pierre Guimard, 25, a home entertainment installer. "Almost like a boat on the water."

A representative of Caltrain, which runs light rail between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, said all trains were stopped as soon as the earthquake hit, and that they were running at restricted speeds afterward. There were no reports of injuries or other problems. The trains were expected to remain in service until midnight.

A spokesman for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, which runs underground and aboveground trains throughout the region, said all trains were stopped soon after 8 p.m. for five minutes.

"There's no damage so far, and we're not anticipating any," BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. He said trains were running five to seven minutes behind schedule but were expected to get back on schedule soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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