The strongest earthquake to strike a populated area of Southern California in more than a decade rattled windows and chandeliers, made buildings sway and sent people running into the streets on Tuesday. But there were no immediate reports of serious injuries or major damage.
The 5.4-magnitude quake – considered moderate – was felt from Los Angeles to San Diego, and as far east as Las Vegas, 230 miles away. Nearly 30 aftershocks quickly followed, the largest estimated at 3.8.
The quake was centered 29miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles near Chino Hills, a San Bernardino County city of 80,000 built mostly in the early 1990s with the latest in quake-resistant technology.
Buildings swayed in downtown Los Angeles for several seconds, leading to the evacuation of some offices.
“I'm still shaking. My knees are wobbling. I thought the building might collapse,” said Rosana Martinez, 50, who works in a fifth-floor office at the California National Bank in downtown Los Angeles.
As strong as it felt, Tuesday's quake was far less powerful than the deadly magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake that toppled 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.
The earthquake had about 1percent of the energy of the Northridge quake, said Thomas Heaton, director of the earthquake engineering and research laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
“People have forgotten, I think, what earthquakes feel like,” said Kate Hutton, a seismologist at Caltech. “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.”
Attractions at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure theme parks and the Knott's Berry Farm theme park were temporarily closed for inspections after the shaking.
The quake interrupted a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council, causing the 27-story City Hall to sway just as councilman Dennis Zine was criticizing a plan to increase trash fees.
“And there goes the earthquake – earthquake, earthquake, earthquake!” said Zine, as members of the audience began to cry out. “The building is rolling!”
California's Office of Emergency Services received scattered reports of minor infrastructure damage, including broken water mains and gas lines.
“I think we were very lucky with this one,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.