SAN FRANCISCO -- A major earthquake struck northern California Tuesday night, killing at least 50 people, knocking out power, starting fires, and collapsing buildings, freeways and a section of the Bay Bridge. The quake postponed the World Series.
The rolling quake along the notorious San Andreas fault struck at 5:04 PDT and lasted about 15 seconds.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy said 40 people were confirmed killed in the collapse of a freeway in Oakland across the bay from San Francisco, where at least six people were killed in the collapse of a building.
One fatality was confirmed in the Bay Bridge collapse, and at least two deaths were confirmed in Santa Cruz, near the earthquake's epicenter, and there were unconfirmed reports of additional fatalities.
Damage was reported as far away as Reno, Nev., about 250 miles northeast of San Francisco, and the quake was felt in Los Angeles, about 450 miles to the south.
The earthquake struck during the rush hour and a half-hour before Game 3 of the World Series was scheduled to start at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Players and their families rushed onto the safety of the field. Some of the 68,000 fans said the park shuddered under the rolling motion.
The game was postponed as players and tearful wives were hugging in the infield.
San Francisco International Airport was closed because of tower damage. The airport in Oakland was also closed.
At least two aftershocks were felt. Caltech seismologists in Pasadena estimated the quake at between 6.5 and 7.0 on the open-ended Richter scale. Russ Needham, geophysicist of U.S. Geological Service in Golden, Colo., said the quake had a magnitude of 6.9.
A magnitude 7 is considered a major earthquake capable of widespread, heavy damage.
At least six people were killed in San Francisco when a brick building collapsed. Some of the victims were in cars crushed by falling bricks, police Lt. Jerry Kilroy said. A seventh person was confirmed killed in the collapse of a section of the upper roadway of the double-deck Bay Bridge.
At least two sections of elevated freeway had collapsed near the San Francisco waterfront in the vicinity of the Bay Bridge, which links San Francisco and Oakland. The Golden Gate Bridge was not reported damaged.
The state Capitol in Sacramento was evacuated.
Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said Candlestick Park, where Game 3 of the World Series was to have begun a half-hour after the quake struck, would be inspected before a decision is made on whether the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics play the rest of the Series there.
Tom Mullins, a spokesman for the State Office of Emergency Services, said the epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Santa Cruz and San Jose about 40 miles west of Hollister and appeared to be along the San Andreas fault.
He said there was major damage with people trapped in buildings in San Benito County, buildings had collapsed in Santa Clara County, freeway overpasses buckled in Alameda County and a major fire was burning in Oakland.
Gas, electricity and phone service was knocked out over hundreds of square miles.
'It's the scariest thing I've ever lived through,' said Tom Honig, assistant managing editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. 'There is substantial damage on the downtown streets and at the mall. We have at this point only two confirmed injuries, both from flying glass.'
There were several fires burning in downtown San Francisco, including one covering a city block in the Marina District, and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley. Some cars were trapped or crushed beneath a downed section of the Bay Bridge, which links San Francisco and Oakland. Officials said at least one person was killed in the collapse.
In Oakland, a half-mile section of the upper deck of Interstate 880 collapsed. The Embarcadero Freeway, an elevated double-decked roadway that runs along the city's waterfront, also sustained some damage and was shut down. In addition, the San Mateo, Carquinez and Richmond-San Rafael bridges were closed off for inspection.
Residents said it felt like the strongest earthquake felt in the Bay Area in memory, and it was stronger than the Sylmar quake in Southern California in 1971 that killed 82 people.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit system that runs below San Francisco Bay and beneath the city streets was shut down. One train in a tunnel through the Berkeley Hills was evacuated.
Glass littered the sidewalks along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, where cracks could be seen in many buildings.
'It felt like one of those huge monsters from a Japanese horror movie grabbed a hold of the building and was shaking the hell out of it,' said Margie Cornehl, a city planning employee in San Jose, 50 miles south of San Francisco, who was working on the fourth floor of the six-story City Hall.
In Washington, President Bush told reporters outside the White House, 'The federal government will do everthing it can to help.' He said Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner was headed to the scene late Tuesday and that he was summoning members of Federal Emergency Management Agency to the White House.
Pacific Bell urged people not to call northern California in search of relatives because the phone lines are needed for emergency services.