'Jaded' Californians see quakes as part of life

LOS ANGELES, July 29 (Reuters) - It was the Los Angeles area's biggest earthquake in nearly 15 years, but for many the tremor felt like business as usual.

A 5.4-magnitude temblor at lunchtime on Tuesday sent office workers streaming from their downtown Los Angeles high-rises and led many to reach for their phones to check on friends and relatives.

But after it was all over, with only minor injuries and damage reported, many Southern California residents simply shrugged it off.

"We're jaded earthquake people, we've been through it all," said attorney Linda Hsu, 35, who walked down 38 flights of stairs from her downtown office following the quake. "Because we live in Southern California, we are all used to it."

Hsu's colleague, attorney Stephanie Brie, 28, said she was able to tell quickly the earthquake was not big enough to put them in any great danger.

"While it was going on, I didn't feel like I was going to die," Brie said.

Many compared it with the last big seismic event in 1994, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake that killed 60 people and struck before dawn.

In Chino Hills, the community east of Los Angeles that was closest to the quake's epicenter, city spokeswoman Denise Cattern said most residents agreed it was the biggest earthquake they had ever felt.

Even there, residents were more exhilarated by the temblor than alarmed.

Tom Chappell, a soccer camp coach, said the earthquake struck in the middle of a game, exciting the children who were playing.

"Wow, we were in an earthquake," said Chappell.

One mother who was at the camp picking up her son said she was disappointed she had not noticed the earthquake because she was in a moving car at the time.

"I was in my car and I didn't feel a thing," said Joanne Garcia. "I didn't know we had an earthquake until I got to the mall."


A seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, Kate Hutton, encouraged Southern Californians to think of the earthquake as "a drill for the Big One," a much-feared, catastrophic quake.

Some took that advice to heart, saying they were inspired to sock away water, food and other supplies just in case.

"Whenever you have an earthquake, you say to yourself, 'I have to get that earthquake kit together at home,'" said Nancy Gregg, 40, a legal secretary who works in a 40-story building.

"I have a list," Gregg said. "Now I need to go shopping and get the stuff on the list. Food, clothes, bottles of water, that kind of stuff."

A Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman, Brian Humphrey, said thousands of people had gone to the department's Web site to download disaster preparedness information immediately following the earthquake.

"Our residents appear on edge," Humphrey said.

Many residents, said, however, that Tuesday's earthquake was a reminder of just how complacent they had become -- and how unprepared the region is for a major catastrophe.

"I would fit into the category of unprepared," said 40-year-old downtown Los Angeles worker Doug Hein. "Collectively, Southern Californians are in a sense of blissful ignorance." (Additional reporting by Gina Keating in Chino Hills and Lisa Baertlein and Syantani Chatterjee in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)