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4.4 earthquake awakens Southern California; no major damage or injuries reported [Updated]

March 16, 2010 |  7:18 am

Southern Californians were awakened early Tuesday to a 4.4-magnitude earthquake centered in Pico Rivera that caused no major damage or injuries but put first-responders on alert and rattled nerves.

Residents living near the epicenter near Pico Rivera said some items fell off shelves and tables, but authorities said they have no reports of structural damage to homes. However, the quake may have caused damage to Interstate 5 in Downey, where two southbound lanes buckled and were closed temporarily. [For the record, 1:16 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated the quake may have damaged a section of Interstate 5 in Lakewood.]

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the temblor struck at 4:04 a.m. about 11 miles east of downtown Los Angeles and about one mile from Pico Rivera. The depth was recorded at about 11 miles. The quake was considered small, but it was felt over a large swath of Southern California.

On the USGS website, more than 1,000 people across Southern California reported feeling the temblor.

Jeff Carr, chief of staff to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said in a Twitter message that it appeared there was "no major damage in the City at this time. Good reminder that we all need 2 be prepared."

The quake was centered about four miles from the epicenter of the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake, which caused eight deaths and registered magnitude 5.9.

Tuesday's quake produced about 500 times less energy than the Whittier Narrows earthquake, said Kate Hutton, a seismologist at Caltech. Tuesday's shaker was also weaker than the 5.5 Chino Hills earthquake in the summer of 2008, which was felt widely but caused little damage.

Earthquakes with a magnitude of 4 are actually quite common in Southern California, occurring somewhere in the region every month or two. The last magnitude 4 earthquake in the region occurred Saturday in a remote area of northern San Diego County near the town of Julian.

"It's all location, location, location," Hutton said. "The only thing that distinguishes this [morning's earthquake] is that it happened in a populated area."

The quake appeared to be triggered by a thrust fault, in which one side of a fault slides over another, Hutton said. It was still unclear which fault caused the quake.

For Jose Palomera, Tuesday's quake came during cleaning time at the taco stand El Atacor in Pico Rivera. He was removing mats out of the kitchen when he felt a strong jolt.

"At first I thought it was a big rig passing by because it tends to shake here when one passes by," Palomera said.

He said he stood still and realized it wasn't a truck. "I then saw my two co-workers come out and ask if it was an earthquake," he said.

Outside the taco stand only minutes after the earthquake struck, Palomera was back to his usual routine, wiping down tables.

"It felt like a big wave just passing by," he said.

There is a small chance that Tuesday's earthquake is a precursor to the Big One, Hutton said. Any time an earthquake occurs in California, there's statistically a 5% chance that it is a "foreshock" of a larger earthquake, Hutton said.

But that 5% chance diminishes after the first day of the quake. The likelihood of a subsequent larger temblor is further lessened if there are no aftershocks. As daybreak approached, no aftershocks had been reported.

-- Ruben Vives in Pico Rivera and Rong-Gong Lin II in Alhambra

Photo: Larry Delahoy walks along the 7700 block of Passons Boulevard in Pico Rivera after being awakened early Tuesday morrning by the magnitude 4.4 earthquake. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

More breaking news in L.A. Now:

After the quake in Pico Rivera, everything's OK at OK Donuts

South L.A. foster mother, boyfriend are under investigation in child's death

L.A. earthquake rattles region awake but no major damage is reported