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By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, July 29 An earthquake struck just
east of Los Angeles on Tuesday, rocking tall buildings and
rattling nerves across Southern California, but causing no
serious injuries or major structural damage.
The quake hit at 11:42 a.m. local time (1842 GMT) about 30
miles (48 km) east of Los Angeles in suburban Chino Hills and
registered magnitude 5.4 -- making it the strongest seismic
event centered near America's second-largest city since the
6.7-magnitude Northridge quake in 1994.
It was followed in the next few hours by more than two
dozen aftershocks, the largest measuring 3.6, and geologists
said there was a small chance it could be a foreshock to a
larger earthquake still to come.
"I think we were very lucky with this one," Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger told a news conference in Sacramento, adding he
called his Los Angeles-area home to speak with his wife, Maria
Shriver, immediately after the quake.
Magnitude 5 quakes are considered moderate but are still
capable of causing damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said
Tuesday's quake was shallow, about 8.5 miles (13.6 km) deep.
Across Southern California, the temblor was felt as a
strong jolt, swaying tall buildings in downtown Los Angeles and
Orange County and sending office workers into the streets.
"I immediately went and stood under a doorway," said Rachel
Feldman, a 27-year-old attorney who works in the 75-story US
Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles, the tallest building in the
western United States.
Sara Phillips, 28, also an attorney in the US Bank Tower,
said: "I wasn't scared. The building is on rollers so it made
me feel like I was going to barf."
Elsewhere, water mains broke and goods fell off store
shelves but no serious injuries were reported. Airports, ports,
power grids and nearby nuclear power plants all reported no
structural damage or interruption in service.
The ground shook for hundreds of miles km and was felt as
far south as the Mexican border and east to Las Vegas and
'BIGGEST WE EVER FELT'
In Chino Hills, where the shallow quake struck some 7 miles
(12 km) below the surface, spokeswoman Denise Cattern said no
reports of damage of injury were reported in the city of 80,000
but that residents were unnerved.
"Most people agreed it was the biggest earthquake they ever
felt," she said.
James Destefano, city manager in neighboring Diamond Bar,
said pictures and cabinets fell at City Hall.
"We experienced the same effects as everyone in this
immediate area," he said. "We were rocking and rolling for
about 15 to 20 seconds."
A spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office
said there were no reports of injuries, although several water
mains broke in the area, flooding streets.
The Northridge quake, which struck just before dawn on Jan.
17, 1994, killed 57 people, collapsed an apartment building and
caused billions of dollars in damage. City officials have since
strengthened building codes for new construction and required
retrofitting of older buildings.
"In California, fortunately because of our good building
standards, we would not expect to see structural damage with a
(magnitude) 5.4," said Kate Hutton, seismologist at the
California Institute of Technology, or Caltech.
Caltech and USGS experts estimated that Tuesday's quake
released only 1 percent of the energy unleashed by the 1994
But they noted there was a 5 percent chance the Chino Hills
quake was a foreshock to a larger seismic event.
'PREPARED AS ANYONE CAN BE'
"I think we are as prepared as anyone can be. I think we're
better prepared than any other state for emergencies like
that," Schwarzenegger said. "After (Hurricane) Katrina, what
happened there, made us really re-evaluate everything."
In Anaheim, 40 miles (64 km) south of L.A., workers at
Disneyland removed visitors from rides but the world-famous
amusement park remained open and rides were resuming.
The quake did not hinder operations on the state's power
grid or damage California's two nuclear plants, utility and
state officials said.
Phone service remained operational but AT&T reported a
sharp spike in calls that left customers with busy signals.
Los Angeles is the most populous city in California and the
second-most populous urban area in the United States. According
to 2000 Census Bureau figures, about 3.6 million people live in
the city of Los Angeles, while Southern California is home to
more than 20 million people.
(Additional reporting by Bernard Woodall, Deena Beasley, Lisa
Baertlein, Alex Dobuzinskis, Jennifer Martinez, Syantani
Chatterjee and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Alexandria Sage
in San Francisco; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)