- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) | 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 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 29 miles 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 earthquake-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, an employee of 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 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.

“The most interesting thing to us about this earthquake so far is it is the first one we’ve had in a populated area for quite a long time and people have forgotten what earthquakes feel like,” said seismologist Kate Hutton at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pasadena. “We should probably look at it as an earthquake drill. I mean it’s a drill for the Big One that will be coming some day.”

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 Mr. Zine, as members of the audience began to cry out. “The building is rolling!”

Merchandise toppled from store shelves and bricks fell from walls of old-style buildings.

California’s Office of Emergency Services received scattered reports of minor infrastructure damage, including broken water mains and gas lines.

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