Two killed by falling clock tower in California's strongest quake for years

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The Independent US

An earthquake that measured 6.5 on the Richter scale shook California yesterday, killing two people. The tremors were felt in Los Angeles and San Francisco in what seismologists said was the strongest quake in the region for four years.

The victims were crushed by a falling clock tower in the farming town of Paso Robles. The earthquake also forced the evacuation of William Randolph Hearst's grandiose palace in San Simeon.

The earthquake ran along faultlines near but not on the San Andreas fault ­ widely feared as the source of a possible future "Big One" with the power to create havoc in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Lasting about 15 seconds, it could be felt from San Francisco to the northern outskirts of San Diego, a distance of hundreds of miles, setting high-rise buildings swaying in cities along the west coast.

The epicentre was about six miles south of Hearst Castle, the lavish palace built on a rocky promontory above the Pacific Ocean by the newspaper baron Randolph Hearst. It was used as a model for Xanadu, in Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane. Visitors were evacuated as a precaution, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

Residents in Cambria, the tourist town that bore the brunt of the earthquake, said the jolt was the sharpest they had felt in years, and described how they dived under desks and crouched under doorways until the shaking subsided. Electricity and telephone services were shut down over a wide area.

Damage appeared to be limited, however, and aside from the deaths in Paso Robles there were no immediate reports of serious injuries. The clock tower in Paso Robles, a centre for wine-making 20 miles east of the epicentre, was on top of a two-storey building, which collapsed.

In San Luis Obispo, 25 miles south of the epicentre, visitors to a winery were slightly hurt when barrels of wine rolled off their stands.

Ross Stein, a spokesman for the US Geological Survey, said: "For an earthquake this size, every single sand grain on the planet dances to the music of those seismic waves.

"You may not be able to feel them, but the entire planet is rung like a bell."

Geologists said that there was about a 10 per cent chance that the earthquake was a precursor to a larger one.