- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

PASO ROBLES, Calif. (AP) — An earthquake rocked California’s central coast yesterday and shook the state from Los Angeles to San Francisco, collapsing old downtown buildings in this small town and killing at least two persons.

The 11:16 a.m. quake — its preliminary magnitude measured at 6.5 — pitched the roof of Paso Robles’ 1892 clock tower building into the street, crushing a row of parked cars in this San Luis Obispo County town about 20 miles east of the epicenter.

It was the first deadly earthquake since the 6.7-magnitude temblor that hit Northridge in 1994, and the most powerful to strike California since a 7.1 quake rocked the desert near Joshua Tree more than four years ago. No one was killed in the 1999 quake.

The main shock yesterday was centered in a sparsely populated area about 11 miles north of the coastal town of Cambria. It was followed immediately by at least five aftershocks larger than magnitude 3.3, the biggest of which was estimated at magnitude 4.7, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The quake also rocked the federal courthouse in San Francisco, 165 miles to the northwest of the epicenter, and sent the building’s upper floors swaying for about 30 seconds. People in downtown Los Angeles, 185 miles southeast, felt a sustained rolling motion.

In Paso Robles, a town of 25,000 people in a region dotted with wineries and horse ranches, firefighters dug through the debris of a collapsed row of stores in the clock-tower building.

The bodies of Jennifer Myrick, 19, of Atascadero, and Marilyn Zafuto, 55, of Paso Robles, were found on the sidewalk outside a dress shop, police Sgt. Bob Adams said.

The owners of three cars damaged in the rubble were still unaccounted for. “They have not been reported missing but their whereabouts are unknown,” Sgt. Adams said.

Two persons with minor injuries were pulled from a badly damaged bakery.

Nick Sherwin, 61, who operated Pan Jewelers in the building, said he had ordered five employees and eight customers out of the store, but “the big jolt hit” when he was about 10 feet from the door.

“My roof basically jumped onto the street and landed on cars with people in them,” Mr. Sherwin said as he watched firefighters recover bodies. The cars “are crushed like little toys, nothing left.”

About 10,000 homes and businesses were without power in the San Luis Obispo area, said John Nelson, spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric. Phone service became spotty as the system quickly overloaded.

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