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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Earthquake Rocks Southern California

Aired December 22, 2003 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Mary Carson, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Cambria, California, joins us on the phone now.
Mary, you actually felt this quake?

MARY CARSON, CAMBRIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Oh, I sure did. It was quite exciting. I was standing in a parking lot outside, about to go into a two-story building. I thought a very large truck was coming my way.

And there was a roar. There was noise. There was a little tremor. But then it started to roll.

The building did sway. And the folks in the building came out. And, you know, it seemed to last for quite a long time. I would say a full minute that we felt a rolling, shaking feeling, and roaring.

PHILLIPS: Any damages that you've been able to assess so far, Mary?

CARSON: The damage seems to be mostly on the inside. Things -- drawers came open, things fell off the shelves. So the shops and galleries that we have here in town have experienced some breakage and items that have fallen off the shelves.

PHILLIPS: Well, I've got to tell you, I've been lucky enough to vacation in that area before. It's such a beautiful area there along the water, a lot of wineries, a lot of, of course, galleries and shopping to do. How busy is it right now? Are there a lot of tourists there right now? You know, this is something the residents pretty much have been through before and know how to handle.

CARSON: No, actually we are not generally considered an earthquake area. And I've been here six years and have not experienced anything like this.

PHILLIPS: Really?

CARSON: Not at all. We -- this is apparently a newly found fault, according to something I heard on the news just now. But no, this is pretty good. And you know, it's interesting; we just had a pretty good shake a few minutes ago.

PHILLIPS: So that area has never felt the effects of an earthquake, being so close to San Francisco and Los Angeles? CARSON: That's true. But we're not directly -- hadn't been directly associated with fault lines that we knew of.

PHILLIPS: Interesting.

CARSON: It's not a heavy quake area at all.

PHILLIPS: OK. Mary, we're going to ask you to just stand by. We thank you so much. We've been trying to get somebody from Cambria there.

Now I'm being told we're going back to Charles Feldman, who is working this, of course, out of our L.A. bureau with new information.

Charles, what do you know?

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I'm impressed by how native Californians, how stoic they are in the face of earthquakes. I'm a New Yorker, so I'm a little bit more shaky about these things.

But what we know, according to the latest Associated Press dispatch, is the AP is reporting that there was some power outages in the area. Not surprising, because most of the electrical lines, in fact all of them, would be above ground in a 6.5 quake and quite easily, I think, knock some of those to the ground.

Also, according to the AP, there are some reports of some injuries at a local winery. But that is not confirmed. And we don't know how many people, nor do we know the extent of their injuries. But other than that, as we've been saying now for, oh, better than half an hour, from all the initial reports, it does not appear as if there have been any major injuries or major structural damage, except for that historic clock tower, which of course would not be insignificant, that apparently came down near the area of the earthquake.

The woman you had on the line just with you now, Kyra, mentioned that there was a minor quake she felt, an aftershock right before she was on the phone, and maybe when she was on the phone with you. And apparently there have been a number of aftershocks recorded, the highest one thus far, 4.9.

And you may recall, we talked about this a half-hour ago, that when you have an earthquake, especially a 6.5, the aftershocks often can be as problematic as the initial event. Because the aftershocks, depending upon how deep they are and where they are, could by themselves cause damage and injury. And sometimes the aftershocks can be as strong or even stronger than the initial event.

And aftershocks can sometimes go on for quite an amount of time, hours and sometimes even a day or so after the initial event. So apparently there are some aftershocks to this major 6.5 event that occurred again in Cambria, or Cambria, as the locals, I guess, like to call it, which again is north of L.A. and south of San Francisco, and as we've been saying, near San Simeon, where the historic Hearst castle is.

And for those of you who don't remember William Randolph Hearst was, if you saw the movie "Citizen Kane," well, that was Orson Well's fictional account of Hearst's life. And the estate at San Simeon, which is the Hearst castle, if you saw "Citizen Kane," was made much of in that movie. It was an important part of that film.

It is filled, as you can see now, with art and sculptures and an impressive, by any means, swimming pool. It was actually where for a good amount of time William Randolph Hearst actually lived in a place that has -- I was there twice, and I don't remember, Kyra, how many rooms it has. But it's more than I would care to have to clean.

And it is a beautiful place. It attracts tens of thousands of tourists per year. We were told, as we've reported, that it has been evacuated of tourists. A wise move, considering a 6.5 earthquake occurred near there. But we don't know if there's been any damage to the castle itself or significantly to any of the artwork there.

It has some real treasures. And it would be an absolute shame if any of those treasures were injured or damaged as a result of this earthquake.

So that's what we have thus far. And we're still trying our best to find out from the area what other damage there might be, what other injuries, if any, there might be. And so far, it seems as if the damage is minimal. It seems as if injuries are minor at best. If that changes, we, of course, will let you know right away -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Charles, I can second that motion on the Hearst castle and how incredibly amazing that place is.

Greg Haas out of San Luis Obispo, he works in the office of U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps. He is on line with us now. He felt the earthquake. Also taking a number of calls from folks in the area.

Greg, what can you tell us?

GREG HAAS, AIDE TO REP. LOIS CAPPS: Well, I was in the '89 earthquake in the bay area, and this one lasted as long, if not longer. And being on the second floor of a building in downtown San Luis Obispo, it was quite a stir, especially with it full of shoppers.

But right now we can't get through to Cambria. Phone lines seems to be dead. Some cell phones are getting out there.

I understand from county dispatch that there's a structure fire in Cambria. But right now we're just waiting to see what information we can get out of there and if there's any assistance we can offer. And OES, Office of Emergency Services, is busy with all the calls that are coming in right now. So we'll wait to see what their assessment is.

PHILLIPS: So Greg, so far, no one's called to tell you about injuries or massive structure damage or home damage? HAAS: No, no calls on that yet. You know, reports into the office, including people around the office here, talking about lines down, poles down, that kind of thing. No electricity.

We've had calls from some friends of mine up in North County who -- North County, which is past Robles (ph), where a structure has come down, an old structure reportedly has come down. Electricity is out in certain areas. But right now, nothing severe has been reported. But it's pretty early, and communication is limited.

PHILLIPS: OK. Greg Haas out of the office there of U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps in the San Luis Obispo area.

Greg, thank you. We'll continue to check in with you.

Rob Marciano up in the weather center working this, of course.

No tsunami warnings so far. Why not?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, apparently the location of this thing, and the magnitude, albeit pretty strong, 6.5, historically speaking, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Tsunami Warning Center, one on the West Coast, and one in Hawaii, they do a historical makeup of where these things are located, how strong they are, and what they've done in the past, because there's still a lot not known about tsunamis and earthquakes, so they rely a lot on actual history.

I'll flip the switch and I'll show you what expanse we're talking about. Now, the local areas around where the quake was, there can be local rises in the sea level. There can be local disturbances along that in the little basin area. That certainly is a concern.

But as far as an all-on tsunami, we're not looking at that at this point. No tsunami warnings are out for the coastlines of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and right up the coastline to Alaska. That's good news, because the Channel Islands out there are definitely under the gun oftentimes when we get a California tsunami.

And then we'll widen out a little bit and talk about little Hawaii down there. No tsunami warnings out for Hawaii as well, even though it's so far out there, Kyra. All that water, if you've ever played with water in a pool, you know that doesn't take much to get that water to move and propagate down. But no tsunami warnings are out at this point.

And if it was a big earthquake, there easily could be one that reaches Hawaii. But that's not the case today.

PHILLIPS: And I've been getting e-mails across my computer, Rob. A couple friends saying the water was splashed right out of their swimming pools.

MARCIANO: No kidding?

PHILLIPS: Yes. MARCIANO: One other point, Kyra. If this was one that could generate a tsunami, how long it would take, say, to get from California all the way to Hawaii...

PHILLIPS: Right.

MARCIANO: That would be about five hours. So they would have five hours to deal with that. That's why the tsunami warning centers are out there to alert, because there is a lag time in which there's time to evacuate.

Just like folks who live along the Gulf of Mexico and the seaboard of Florida, folks who live in California and Oregon, along the coastline, they have tsunami evacuation procedures. And they know to tune in to their local authorities because they can easily be told to get out if there was one. But, to repeat, there's not one with this particular earthquake.

PHILLIPS: OK. And we still wait to see, also, if there will be any aftershocks.

Rob Marciano, thank you.

MARCIANO: OK.

PHILLIPS: And where are we going to move on now to? OK.

If you're just tuning in, once again, an earthquake rocking southern California. A 6.5 on the Richter scale. Charles Feldman in our Los Angeles bureau getting information minute by minute -- Charles.

FELDMAN: Yes, we sure are. And this concerns the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant. There is a nuclear power plant that is not far from where this 6.5 earthquake occurred. And we just got off the phone with a spokesperson for the power plant.

They tell us that it was most certainly felt, not surprising, in the control room of that nuclear power plant. But, as far as they could tell, they tell us, it has had no impact, no impact, on the nuclear plant.

They are checking to see if there's any damage. Thus far, it is unknown if there is any. But again, we're being told that while felt at the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, there appears to be no damage to the facility, and it is up and running as normal.

But that is, of course, a concern, whenever you have an earthquake of this magnitude anywhere near a nuclear power plant. And there are several in the state of California. That is always a concern.

And so they are looking to make sure there are no cracks anywhere in the structure of the unit. But so far, it appears as if all things are well at the plant. So again, recapping, it's 6.5. There have been several aftershocks. The strongest thus far apparently a 4.9, which in and of itself is a, you know, kind of hefty earthquake. I mean, you will notice a 4.9 quake. But that was an aftershock.

And we are still trying to determine as best we can the extent of damage, if any, and injuries, if any. And the only thing we've heard about thus far is this historic clock tower I believe it is, or was, that apparently came down as a result of the earthquake. Not known if any injuries occurred when that happened. And not known to what extent, if at all, that structure can be repaired.

The good thing about all this, Kyra, as you know, is that the event, this earthquake event, happened in San Luis Obispo County, which is, as far as counties in California, which is of course the country's most populated state, as far as population goes it's not a very populated county. It has only about 250,000 people spread out over a fairly large geographic area, mainly along the coast.

So you don't have a lot of population packed into tight areas as you would find in the San Francisco Bay area, on San Diego or Los Angeles. And that's good, because you're not going to have a lot of people and a lot of structures likely to bump into one another as a result of a 6.5 earthquake. So it was fortunate in that respect that it occurred in a part of the state that is not nearly as populated as San Francisco, L.A. and San Diego -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. And Charles, I'm looking here -- when I was speaking with Mary Carson, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce at Cambria, we're seeing that the epicenter of this was -- I said to her -- I said folks there must be prepared for things like this because earthquakes have hit southern California so many times. And she said, actually, no.

She said she had not remembered something even in this area, that it was just six years ago outside of that area that she remembers an earthquake. And I was just looking here, that the quake likely ruptured along roughly 20 miles of a yet unknown fault. So that's sort of an interesting point there.

This could have happened in an area that -- I mean, obviously, we've got to work to get more geophysicists on the line to talk about this. But are you hearing anything about that, that this could have happened along a fault that no one knew about, or was monitoring?

FELDMAN: Well, no. But it wouldn't surprise me, Kyra, if that's the case. There are many faults in California that are discovered annually that no one knew about before. And if it happened along one that has not been studied significantly, that certainly wouldn't surprise me or many other people, I think.

Let me go back if I can, briefly, because I know that people get very nervous when the subject of nuclear power plants are brought up. So let me go back over that if I can for a minute or two, because there is a nuclear power plant, the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, that is situated very close to this 6.5 earthquake. It's a plant that employs about 1,200 people and generates a fair amount of electricity for parts of central and southern California, I believe.

But we are told by a spokesman that, while it was felt in the control room, there appears to be no significant damage, if any, to the nuclear facility itself. That there's no impact on the operation of the plant or to the personnel in the plant, and therefore no impact to the community as a result of the earthquake happening so close to a nuclear power plant.

But I know that people who live near these things get very nervous when you talk in the same sentence, you use the words "earthquake" and "nuclear power plant." So just to put people's minds at ease, we are told that this earthquake did not cause any problems at the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, and that it is up and running, and things seem to be quite secure there -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Charles Feldman working this from the Los Angeles bureau.

Once again, real quickly, if you're just tuning in, a 6.5 earthquake rocking southern California. The epicenter, Cambria, California, not far from Los Angeles or San Francisco. A bit of a rumbling, rolling feeling that was felt from downtown L.A., all along the coast here up into San Francisco.

We will continue to bring you more information on this as the story continues. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was really a loud ride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: 6.5 a wild ride. An earthquake we're talking about rocking southern California.

On the phone with us now, John Nelson from PG&E, Pacific Coast and Electric, out of San Francisco.

John, what can you tell us about power?

JOHN NELSON, PG&E: We have reports of widespread local power outages in the San Luis Obispo and central coast region. Currently about 40,000 customers are out of power in the San Luis area.

PHILLIPS: Forty thousand in San Luis. Any other areas affected?

NELSON: At this point, it's San Luis and the central coast. The earthquake, as you've reported, was felt certainly all the way up here in San Francisco and into Fresno. But there aren't reports of damages from any other areas.

PHILLIPS: Well, those 40,000 people, what can you tell them, John, about getting power restored? How long will this take? Do you know?

NELSON: That type of damage assessment work is being done now. The good news is that we have a lot of automated equipment that will trip itself off to protect itself and to protect the grid when an earthquake hits. So oftentimes, basically those circuits can be tripped right back on. And many of these customers can be restored quickly.

Where there were rockslides or other types of damage in some of the hilly areas, and power lines came down, that work takes longer. But our hope is that a great many of these customers will be restored shortly.

PHILLIPS: Well, is it possible more than 40,000 people could lose power or...

NELSON: Yes.

PHILLIPS: It is possible that could happen?

NELSON: Yes, that number could grow. And not from new outages, unless there's an additional earthquake. We learn of outages as our customers report in and let us know that they're out of power.

PHILLIPS: OK. John Nelson from PG&E, we'll continue to check in with you. Thank you so much.

About 40,000 people John is saying right now without power in the San Luis Obispo area and the central coast. More people could be affected. PG&E working diligently to try and restore that power right now. A lot of people affected, as you're going to hear right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATALIE CONNELLY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but, yes, it was -- as one woman put it, she felt like she was having a heart attack. And another woman pulled her back. One was crying. It was a little scary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Natalie, can you describe to us what you were doing at the time and what you felt?

CONNELLY: I actually -- because I'm pretty new here, so I -- my first response was to get under the desk. Everybody else is run around saying, "Get out of the building, get out of the building!"

So I probably didn't do the wisest thing. But I got under the desk. My whole office was shaking. The walls were moving. You know, my coffee mug fell off the desk. But...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes the best bet is to get under something like a table to protect yourself, should something fall from the ceiling. And I know that there were some folks in other towns who did the very same thing that you did. So don't feel like you're alone out there. You want to get away, and you want to find the safest place that you can when this happens. CONNELLY: Yes, that's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are things now with the nerves out there? People calming down?

CONNELLY: People are calming down, but nobody's too happy to be going back to work. I think that everybody's going to be taking off soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Natalie, have you felt any aftershocks?

CONNELLY: Just small. Small aftershocks. I only felt one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: You're listening o those interviewed on KCAL out of Los Angeles, California. People that have felt the 6.5 earthquake that has rocked southern California. It happened around 11:00 West Coast time.

Epicenter right now at Cambria, California, right there along the coast in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. An area that we are told that ruptured along roughly about 20 miles of a yet unknown fault line. Actually talking to people in Cambria saying, this is unusual, very unexpected, and surprised to feel sort of the rolling feeling that they felt in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all along the coast there.

We're going to go back to Los Angeles. Charles Feldman working the story out of our L.A. bureau.

What do you know, Charles?

FELDMAN: Well, we want to go back to some of the things that we're hearing in terms of potential damage, effects of the earthquake, that sort of thing. We're told that there was -- and this is sort of surprising -- only one fire alarm request. And that was in the town of Cambria. But no indications that it was a large fire.

And we're not even sure whether it was connected to the earthquake. But it's being reported as earthquake-associated. But so far, only one fire alarm sent in.

And I mentioned before -- and I'll go back to that -- the nuclear power plant. You just had somebody on the air from Pacific Electric talking about some 40,000 customers in the San Luis Obispo area now without electricity. And I was talking a little bit earlier about that nuclear power plant which is not at all far from San Luis Obispo.

It is the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant. It went online back in 1985, and it supplies power -- I said before to central and southern California. I stand corrected. It's central and northern California.

But we are told that the plant did not sustain any significant damage. It is up and running. And it is perfectly safe, we are being told, even after the 6.5 earthquake occurring right near it. So that's where we are now. Waiting to see whether there are more aftershocks, and waiting to tally up whether or not there's significant damage and injuries, if any -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Charles, thank you.

We go live now out of Templeton. That's just north of San Luis Obispo. Tony Vasquez on the phone with us now.

Tony, it sounds like you had a pretty huge jolt there that knocked you around.

TONY VASQUEZ, TEMPLETON, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: Yes, it was a pretty exciting moment. I never thought I'd need a seat belt in the shower.

PHILLIPS: Tell us what happened, Tony.

VASQUEZ: Well, there was a slight rumble, and then this enormous jolt that knocked me down and actually sheared off the shower head when the whole shower unit moved.

PHILLIPS: You had water shooting out of the walls?

VASQUEZ: Oh yes.

PHILLIPS: Oh my gosh.

VASQUEZ: And all my items that I had in the bathroom were heading towards the floor. I picked up some glass cuts. The hardest part was getting out of the bottom of the tub.

PHILLIPS: My gosh. What about the rest of -- you're OK, though, right?

VASQUEZ: Oh, I'm fine. I picked up a few small cuts. But they're like something you'd pick up trimming a rose Bush. So I'll survive.

PHILLIPS: What about the rest of your house, Tony?

VASQUEZ: Well, I'd been planning to paint. It will be a lot easier now because everything's on the floor. All my books are down.

I had about 3,000 books hit the floor. I had a lot of things that were up on shelves. Here I am in an earthquake area, and I didn't take any kind of precautions for it. And now all that stuff's on the floor. So I'm just going to go ahead and paint.

PHILLIPS: Well, I think you can go ahead and paint and do a little fixing and up. And also start thinking about those earthquakes a little more seriously.

Tony Vasquez, glad you're OK. Out of Templeton there, just north of San Luis Obispo.

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