4.9 Quake shakes Bay Area

By Matthew Fordahl, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 15, 2002

GILROY, Calif. — A moderate earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay area, rattling the stands at hockey and baseball games, sending frightened customers running from businesses and briefly tying up phone lines. 

There were no reports of injuries or significant damage from the quake, which was centered 35 miles south of San Jose just outside Gilroy, the self-proclaimed “Garlic Capital of the World.” However, authorities Tuesday were investigating whether the quake may have ruptured a gas line, sparking a fire that destroyed a home in San Jose. 

The quake struck at 10 p.m. Monday with a magnitude 4.9, according to the U.S. Geological Service. The magnitude was revised from a preliminary magnitude 5.2. Of several aftershocks, the largest was a magnitude 3.2. 

A day later, two minor earthquakes struck Northern California. At about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, a magnitude 3.5 quake hit 12 miles east of Cloverdale, about 160 miles north of the epicenter of Monday’s quake. Just over an hour later, a magnitude 3.3quake hit in the same area near Cloverdale. 

There were no reports of damage or injuries. David Schwartz, a geologist for the USGS, said the area experiences frequent earthquakes of that size, and said Tuesday’s quakes were not related to the Gilroy quake. 

Monday’s quake felt like a sharp jolt to Danny Sharma, a manager at Rodeway Inn in Gilroy. He said the motel shook violently and knocked coffee pots and glasses off room counters. 

“It was the worst one I’ve ever felt,” Sharma said. “The whole building was shaking and there was just this rumbling sound. It was a bad quake.” 

A water pipe supplying fire sprinklers broke over the menswear section at the Gilroy Wal-Mart, which was an hour from closing when the quake hit. Customers quickly left the store and more than a dozen ceiling tiles were knocked out. No one was hurt. 

About a quarter inch of water covered about half the store and dozens of workers worked into the night to mop up the water and salvage merchandise. 

Particularly hard hit were the mouthwash and laundry detergent aisles, where broken containers created a mess. 

Kevin Hackworth, the store’s loss prevention supervisor, said it was still too early to tell how much the store had lost and how much repairs would cost. 

Other parts of Gilroy, best known for an annual garlic festival that attracts 125,000 visitors, seemed mostly undisturbed. At a Lenox china outlet store, most items were still intact Monday, though several broken plates littered the floor and a few porcelain figurines in a window display had fallen. 

At a 7-Eleven, a light fixture became dismounted and a few bottles of cola bounced on the floor. 

Joseph Alderete, who works at a general store next to a Shell Station close to the epicenter, said only a few things fell off the shelves, and a rack of postcards fell. 

“This was the largest one I felt in a while,” Alderete said. 

While customers in nearby businesses ran outside for protection, no one appeared to be injured, witnesses said. Police in Gilroy said the quake didn’t appear to cause any fires and they had no preliminary word of damage. 

Phone service was back to normal across the Bay Area about half an hour after the quake. 

“We experienced network congestion and delayed dial tone in some areas from 10 p.m. to 10:25 p.m.,” said Pacific Bell spokesman John Britton. “We don’t have any infrastructure damage.” 

As a precaution, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system slowed trains and checked the tracks for damage. 

The USGS said weak to light trembling was measured for almost 200 miles north to south, from Carmel on the Pacific Coast up to Guerneville, a small town along the Russian River 148 miles north of the quake’s epicenter. The quake also was felt to the east, with weak shaking measured in Modesto and Turlock, and a slightly stronger shock measured about 80 miles east in Merced. 

The quake was centered about 4.7 miles below the Earth’s surface, and it could cause as many as 20 aftershocks in the next week. There is about a 10 percent chance one of those aftershocks will be a magnitude of 5 or higher, the USGS said. 

A low rumbling was felt in San Francisco, where it seemed to last for several seconds and get stronger as it went along.  

In Watsonville, about 9 miles from the epicenter, a couple of pitchers of beer slid off a table at Mountain Mike’s Pizza. 

“It was a pretty good swing,” said a phone operator at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco who was flooded with calls from guests worried about the shaking. “One guy on the 15th floor said his room just started swaying.” 

Play between the San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche didn’t stop at the Compaq Center in San Jose, where the stands shook as the game with nine minutes to go in the third period. The lights on an upper level catwalk kept shaking after the stadium settled down. 

“I looked around, I said something wrong is going on here. Everything was shaking,” said Michel Goulet, vice president of player personnel for the Avalanche.