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'Swarm' of quakes leading to 'big one'?

March 24, 2009 5:36:32 AM PDT
More than 20 earthquakes rumbled across the Salton Sea area Tuesday morning, the strongest measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale. That one hit just before 5 a.m., centered about three miles south of Bombay Beach on the east side of the Salton Sea. That earthquake was followed by at least 23 smaller aftershocks.In Pasadena, scientists are trying to determine if that "swarm of quakes" could be setting the stage for a far more powerful temblor.

The earthquakes continued Tuesday and scientists are monitoring them at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). At exactly 3:58 p.m. there was another earthquake, a 2.2 magnitude. Scientists are wondering if this could be leading to something bigger.

"It just started shaking and shaking real hard. And I got real scared," said Ricardo Medina, North Shore Salton Sea resident. "I told my wife, 'Let's go outside before something hits us in the head.'"

For Medina and his wife, the day started with a jolt, several earthquakes, one of them a magnitude 4.8.

"The apartment was moving a lot so we just started running outside because we started getting real scared," said Medina.

The couple managed the Super Toro Loco grocery store in North Shore, right next to the Salton Sea. He's lived in the small town since 1960 and has felt a lot of earthquakes, but it still doesn't make it any easier.

"It was pretty hard," said Medina. "It scared the hell out of me."

A swarm of quakes has hit the area over the last 48 hours, 42 of them since Saturday.

"Swarms in the Imperial Valley are not a big deal," said CalTech Seismologist Kate Hutton. "We're used to that. The reason that this one, and another one in 2001, got significant attention from us is that it's very close to the San Andreas Fault."

The San Andreas Fault is of course the big concern here. Back in 1987 a magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit this area, and that triggered a bigger quake just hours later on the Superstition Hills Fault.

Simulation scientists have speculated what would happen if that happened on the San Andreas. Just a few months ago The Great Southern California Shakeout simulated something like that at this exact location.

"The fictional 7.8 earthquake that was the scenario for the shakeout drill started right here, OK?" said Hutton. "And this whole section hasn't broken since 1680, probably, so that's the reason for the close eye that we keep on it."

Which is why residents are always looking closely here as well. Scientists say earthquake after earthquake is something that could trigger a bigger quake, but of course there is no way to predict this.

"It's another straw on a camel's back, but we don't know how many are there and we don't know how many a 'camel' can hold," said Hutton.


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