Looking Back at the 2010 Sierra El Mayor Earthquake

Six years ago today the Sierra El Mayor magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck in Baja California, the worst the area had witnessed since 1892. Two people died, 233 were injured and caused nearly $37 million in damages in California. The damage to Imperial County was so extensive, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency and President Barack Obama declared it a federal disaster area.

Occurring 40 miles south of the Mexico-USA border, approximately 20 million people in the U.S., including most of Southern California, and Mexico felt the quake, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported. The aftershock zone extended from near the northern tip of the Gulf of California to 6 miles northwest of the Mexico-USA border.

The 2010 earthquake lasted 89 seconds and was widely felt throughout the western part of the United States, some southern states and northwest Mexico. Most of the damage occurred in Mexicali and Calexico near the border. Southern California had not endured an earthquake of similar size since the 1992 Landers earthquake (magnitude 7.3) and also was comparable to the magnitude 7.3 Kern County earthquake 58 years earlier.

“The actual impact/magnitude of the earthquake and the continual aftershocks were impressive in size and continuance,” said Tony Rouhotas, Imperial County Fire Chief and Office of Emergency Services Coordinator. “I remember driving into the station to activate the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and scanning the radio as I traveled and listening to all of the traffic from emergency responders. Even though there was a great influx in traffic, I was not hearing reports of large scale incidents with injuries.”

Four aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5 were reported, spanning from the smallest at 5.1 and the largest at 5.7, all within one hour. A magnitude 5.3 aftershock struck near the epicenter four days after the earthquake.

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“The recovery phase is critical and we tried to move as fast as possible,” said Rouhotas of the 2010 earthquake. “We were assisting in getting schools back into operations, having a multitude of inspections done to get people back into their homes, hospitals, businesses and there is a lot of prioritization and delegation of extremely important tasks.”

Rouhotas also said outside agencies such as Cal OES and FEMA provided a “great deal of support.”

“Anyone experiencing such an incident needs to really pull upon these resources to assist those affected as soon as possible and ensure they do everything in their power to restore back to normalcy soon,” Rouhotas said. “The more you can do to alleviate the stressors of those affected will decrease the confusion and anxiety in the long run. However, recovery is very complex and the guidelines need to be well rehearsed and known to avoid bottlenecking of the process.”

Today’s anniversary serves to remind us to prepare for the next earthquake as we never know when the next one will strike.

Learn how you can prepare for the next earthquake by clicking here and aqui en español.

Monica Vargas

Monica is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). She has been involved in the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, Valley Fire, Butte Fire, historic drought, Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident and 2017 winter storms. She previously served Cal OES as an analyst in international affairs, technology operations and executive staff support.

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