The earthquake struck on Dec. 22 at 11:15 a.m. and took the lives of two local women
PASO ROBLES – Where were you 18 years ago on Dec. 22 at 11:15 a.m.? If you were in the Paso Robles area, then you were feeling the wrath of the San Simeon Earthquake of 2003.
The 6.5 magnitude earthquake ripped through the Central Coast, with Paso Robles being the epicenter of the quake’s damage. Two sulfur hot springs erupted, one behind the Paso Robles City Library and another off the Paso Robles Street exit, creating the “rotten eggs” era of Paso Robles.
More considerable damage was done to the original brick buildings of the City, some more than a century old. The infamous Acron Building on Park and 12th Street collapsed, taking the lives of two women, Jennifer Murick (19) of Atascadero and Marilyn Zafuto (55).
The earthquake could be felt all the way in Los Angeles, and damage to buildings was seen throughout the county. The San Miguel Mission had $15 million worth of damage, and extensive damage was caused to the George H. Flamson Middle School. In Templeton, the 110-year-old Bethel Lutheran Church sustained major damage, and the apse had to be rebuilt. Then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took time to visit Paso Robles and tour the damage done by the quake and pay his respects to the victims.
Sergeant Tod Rehner previously reflected on the days following the quake on its 16th anniversary.
“I was off duty when the earthquake started. I remember that it started as a slow roller but then kept going as it increased in intensity. When the ground really began to shake, pictures started falling off the walls, and the intensity of the ‘quake grew even stronger. After what seemed like minutes, the rumbling stopped. Our pool in the backyard had three-foot-high waves that were crashing outside of the pool. Luckily, we received zero damage to our house.
Once we were okay, I immediately went to work with my K9, Yasko. The devastation was apparent just driving into work. Buildings were damaged, debris was in the streets, no power anywhere. The Downtown area looked like a war zone. There were several buildings that had partially collapsed, and the parked cars had been crushed by the falling debris. Yasko and I were deployed to the Downtown area for security as PRFD was already searching the buildings for trapped citizens and casualties. It was surreal to see the buildings that were there hours ago now reduced to huge piles of bricks.
That morning was the start of rotating 12-hour shifts for the entire department. The City fenced off the entire downtown area with chain a link fence as all the businesses still had inventory inside. There were about four of us on a shift that were dedicated to patrolling the downtown area 24 hours a day. We heard that Pan Jewelers, then on the corner of 12th and Park, still had over a million dollars of inventory in the ruins of the store. That was one reason why we stayed in the area all day and all night. We huddled at a few fold-up tables with a propane heater for warmth, as the Red Cross provided food for us when we grew hungry. Those nights were long as we patrolled on foot, then returned to the heater as the next cops went out on foot patrol. The entire week downtown was pretty somber as the realization was always present that lives were lost close by, as evidenced by the damage around us.”