The Earth Was Going to Open Up

A surprise quake wrecks a town and puzzles seismologists

Except for a brief moment of notoriety in 1978, when a plague of crickets carpeted its main street, nothing much ever happens in Coalinga, Calif, (pop. 7,271). Located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, it is a sleepy little community whose most notable claim to fame is its unusual name, a garbled version of its early designation as a railroad's "Coaling Station A." Last week Coalinga (pronounced Clinga) was jolted out of its torpor, adding a puzzling footnote to California's seismic history.

At 4:42 on...

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