Strong Quake Shakes Southern California

By: Robert Jablon AP
By: Robert Jablon AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The strongest earthquake to strike a populated area of Southern California since the 1994 Northridge quake rocked the region from Los Angeles to San Diego on Tuesday but caused only limited damage and a few injuries.

Strongly felt but considered moderate, the magnitude-5.4 jolt struck at 11:42 a.m. and centered 29 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles near the San Bernardino County city of Chino Hills. It was felt as far east as Las Vegas.

Dozens of aftershocks followed, the largest a magnitude-3.8.

"And there goes the earthquake - earthquake, earthquake, earthquake!" Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine declared as shaking interrupted a council meeting. "The building is rolling."

The magnitude-5.9 Whittier Narrows quake in 1987 was the last big shake centered in the region. That quake heavily damaged older buildings and houses in communities east of Los Angeles.

As strongly as it was felt, Tuesday's quake was far less powerful than the deadly magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake that topped bridges and buildings on Jan. 17, 1994. That was the last damaging temblor in Southern California, though not the biggest. A 7.1 quake struck the desert in 1999.

"People have forgotten, I think, what earthquakes feel like," said Kate Hutton, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology. "So I think we should probably look at it as an earthquake drill. ... It's a drill for the `Big One' that will be coming some day."

The heaviest shaking was northwest of the epicenter in the vicinity of suburban Diamond Bar, said Thomas Heaton, director of the earthquake engineering and research laboratory at Caltech. He said all buildings constructed in the region since the 1930s should withstand the kind of shaking felt Tuesday.

The earthquake had about 1 percent of the energy of the Northridge quake, he said.

Merchandise toppled from store shelves and bricks fell from walls of old-style buildings, local television stations reported.

The state Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento received scattered reports of minor infrastructure damage, including broken water mains and gas lines. The damage was in the greater Los
Angeles area.

"I thank God there have not been any reports of serious injuries or damage to properties," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a televised press conference. "People understandably are very nervous."

Minor structural damage was reported throughout Los Angeles, along with five minor injuries and people stuck in elevators, said City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, serving as acting mayor. She said there was flooding in one department store.

The California Department of Transportation and California Highway Patrol were assessing freeways to check for damage. Traffic appeared to be flowing easily, however.

"We have no reported damages or cracks to structures," said Caltrans spokeswoman Maria Raptis.

The jolt caused a fire but no injuries at a Southern California Edison electrical substation in La Habra, about 12 miles southwest of the epicenter, spokesman Paul Klein said. Damage there and to other equipment led to some power outages in Chino Hills, Chino, Diamond Bar and Pomona, he said.

Near the epicenter, all the customers of a Chino Hills Starbucks ran outside and bags of coffee beans fell off shelves, said worker Jamie Saleh, 24.

"It was very, very strong. It was rolling and ... there wasn't a pause. it came on really strong and just kept going."

Chino Hills was incorporated in 1991, so much of the construction is newer and built to modern safety standards, said city spokeswoman Denise Cattern. She said there were no reports of harm in the city of 80,000, although cell phone service in the area was disrupted. The biggest employer in town, the school district, is out of session.

Chino Valley Independent Fire District Capt. Jeremy Ault was in his office when the earthquake hit.

"We were wondering how bad it was going to be for the poor people at the epicenter and then came to find out it was us," Ault said. "Much to everyone's surprise, there's not a lot of calls for damage or injuries."

Buildings swayed in downtown Los Angeles for several seconds.

Workers quickly evacuated some office buildings.

Banker Talar Sarkis, 30, was on the 29th floor of the 72-story U.S. Bank Tower. She got under her desk then took stairs down because the elevators were shut down.

"I got into panic mode a little bit," Sarkis said. "No thoughts, really. I was just thinking, I want to get downstairs."

"I'm still shaking. My knees are wobbling. I thought the building might collapse," said Rosana Martinez, 50, of El Monte, a fifth-floor employee of California National Bank in downtown Los Angeles.

"It was dramatic. The whole building moved and it lasted for a while," said Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore, who was in the sheriff's suburban Monterey Park headquarters east of Los Angeles.

In Orange County, about 2000 detectives were attending gang conference at a Marriott hotel in Anaheim when a violent jolt shook
the main conference room.

Mike Willever, who was at the hotel, said, "First we heard the ceiling shaking, then the chandelier started to shake, then there was a sudden movement of the floor."

Chris Watkins, from San Diego, said he previously felt several earthquakes, but "that was one of the worst ones."

Delegates and guests at a cluster of hotels near the Disneyland resort spilled into the streets immediately after the quake.

Disneyland visitor Clint Hendrickson, 32, said he was in the Golden Horseshoe theater watching a show when the temblor hit.

"The ground moved and the chandelier started shaking," he said. "We are from Texas and we thought it was part of the show, until people started yelling, 'Get under the tables."'

Attractions at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure theme parks and at the Knott's Berry Farm theme park were temporarily closed for inspections after the shaking.

Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said commuter trains within a 30-mile radius of the epicenter were slowed to 20 mph until tracks could be cleared by safety inspectors.

A ground radar at Los Angeles International Airport was lost for about one minute after the quake, but no flights were affected and the radar did not require repairs, said spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

Supervising Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger said 12 of the county's 50 courthouses were evacuated, but
only one in Pomona had visible damage - a crack in the building.

None of the prisons or other state correctional facilities in the area were damaged, and there were no security breaches, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.
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Associated Press Writers Thomas Watkins, John Rogers, Don
Thompson, Gillian Flaccus, Alicia Chang, Michael Blood, Solvej
Schou, Danny Pollock, Laura E. Davis and Noaki Schwartz contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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