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The windows of a local convenience store were shattered after an earthquake struck in Mexicali, Mexico. ((Jorge Rivera/Associated Press))

At least one person in Mexico was killed Sunday after a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the country's northwest border with the U.S.

The quake happened at 3:40 p.m. PT in the Mexican state of Baja California, about 60 kilometres southeast of Mexicali, the state's capital city, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Three smaller aftershocks followed within the hour. The area had been hit by 3.0-magnitude quakes all week.

The seismic waves were felt in both countries, including parts of California, Arizona and Nevada.

While no major damages or deaths were initially reported, Alfredo Escobedo, Baja California's director of civil protection, later said a man was killed when his home collapsed just outside of Mexicali.

Escobedo also said there were concerns that people in the area may be trapped in their homes. Rescue teams with search dogs and digging equipment were dispatched to the city from nearby Tijuana.

The parking garage at Mexicali's city hall also collapsed, Escobedo said, but no one there was hurt.

Tsunami feared

There were also reports of damage from across the border. Peter Mercado, the fire chief in Calexico, a southeastern California city located near Mexicali, told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that there was substantial damage to the city's older sections.

Mercado said some buildings sustained structural damage, gas lines were leaking and the water system was in need of repair. But he said he knew of no injuries.  

Hundreds of people in Tijuana fled the border city's beaches fearing a tsunami, said Capt. Juan Manuel Hernandez of the Tijuana fire department.

Tsunami experts quickly reported that no tsunami was expected along the West Coast, and Hernandez said the beach filled back up with people within an hour.

Tijuana Fire Chief Rafael Carillo said firefighters were rescuing people trapped in an elevator at the Ticuan Hotel in downtown Tijuana, but were mostly responding to reports of fallen cables, power outages and minor damage to buildings.

Strongest in 18 years

The 7.2-magnitude quake was felt as far north as Santa Barbara, Calif., seismologist Susan Potter said. It was the second-strongest to hit the region in recent history. Only one has been stronger — a 7.3-magnitude quake that hit Landers, about 70 kilometres north of Palm Springs, and left three dead in 1992.

Powerful shaking was reported across much of southern California.

The earthquake rattled buildings on the west side of Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley, interrupting Easter dinners. Some stalled elevators were reported, water sloshed out of swimming pools and wine jiggled in glasses.

In San Diego, there were reports of shattered windows, broken pipes and water main breaks in private buildings, but no reports of injuries, a fire department official said.

Power outages were rare on the U.S. side of the border, and mostly brief. Most of the 3,000 customers who lost electricity in southwestern Arizona, and the more than 5,000 who went dark in southern California, regained power within minutes, utility officials said.

Clint Norred, a police spokesperson in Yuma, Ariz., said the quake was strong there but he'd heard no reports of injuries or major damage.

"In my house, it knocked a couple of things off the wall," he said.

Seismologists also said smaller quakes were triggered in a geothermal area in northern California.

A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.0 was recorded at 3:49 p.m. PT about 40 kilometres north of Santa Rosa.

A dispatcher with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said the agency had not received any emergency calls after the quake.

With files from The Associated Press