- Associated Press - Sunday, October 10, 2010

SAN PEDRO, Calif. (AP) — An apparent vehicle explosion near a Los Angles-area harbor sent police scrambling to evacuate the neighborhood and order bomb squads into a hotel parking garage early Sunday, raising fears of a terrorist attack but later called the likely work of vandals.

The bomb squad sent in robots, and officers throughout the area were placed on alert, but investigators now believe it likely was not a bomb that broke the window and created a small hole in the door of an SUV, Los Angeles Police Lt. John Romero said.

A caller reported hearing a blast at 7:30 a.m. in a commercial area of San Pedro. A short time later, a patrol officer with the Port Police discovered the damaged Lincoln Navigator in the underground garage of the Clarion Inn.

“On closer inspection and using their training, the bomb squad is confident the damage was caused by something other than a bomb. Based on what we know now, they’re scaling the operation way back,” Lt. Romero said. “There’s any variety of things that can sound like a bomb or a blast, particularly in a subterranean environment. The danger has passed.”

Lt. Romero said the LAPD has classified it as a vandalism case, and detectives will be looking at surveillance tape of the garage and impounding the SUV to search it for clues. He would not speculate on what created the damage or caused the loud noise.

LAPD Lt. David McGill said it’s still unclear whether the reported blast was connected to the damage to the SUV.

“All we have here is a car that was broken into,” Lt. McGill said. “Obviously, we think bad things first and then we back out.”

The Navigator is owned by Kent Whitman of San Jose. He returned Sunday from a seven-day Mexican cruise and found that the hotel where he left his SUV was evacuated, then learned that the evacuation was because of damage to his vehicle.

“We got off our cruise ship, and our car got vandalized. We don’t know what exactly happened,” Mr. Whitman told an Associated Press reporter at the scene. “We had a GPS system. That’s the only thing that’s gone.”

Mr. Whitman said he got engaged on the cruise and Sunday is his birthday.

Rudy Pastrano, the owner of a diner about two blocks from the hotel, said he was preparing the day’s menu when he heard a loud sound.

“I was cooking my food, and I heard something like ‘boom!’ I said, ‘What happened?’ And I checked everything in the kitchen but saw nothing. An hour later, I went outside and saw a lot of police,” he said.

Streets were shut down, and police briefly set up a command center south of the hotel. The roads were reopened about 11:15 a.m.

Police said there were no reports of injuries or damage to the hotel.

Associated Press reporters Thomas Watkins and Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.