A major earthquake rocked the Los Angeles metropolitan area at 7:42 this morning, killing at least three people, injuring scores of others, severely damaging dozens of buildings and forcing closure of two freeways in the Santa Fe Springs area.
Seismologists at Caltech said the quake measured 6.0 on the Richter scale--considerably less area. Scientists said it was not the "big quake" that is predicted for Southern California sometime in the next 30 years.
This morning's quake was felt as far away as San Diego, San Luis Obispo and even Las Vegas, more than 200 miles to the northeast.
Walls crumbled, windows shattered and ceilings collapsed in scattered locations throughout the metropolitan area. Telephone, radio and television systems were momentarily knocked out of service by the quake, and there were numerous reports of gas and water leaks.
Trapped in Elevators
Power outages trapped scores of workers in stalled elevators and thousands of early morning workers were ordered to evacuate downtown office structures.
City fire officials said a woman--not further identified--was killed when the wall of a building collapsed at the California State University, Los Angeles, campus.
A man buried under seven feet of earth in a tunnel being dug in the Eaton Canyon area above Pasadena was presumed dead, according to the Pasadena Fire Department. He was not immediately identified.
Another man, 35 years old, sustained severe head injuries and was reported near death at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center after the temblor reportedly threw him through a second-floor window in the Commerce area.
Boulder Injures Man
At least one person was seriously injured when a three-foot-by-four-foot boulder rolled down a steep hillside, crushing a vehicle on the Golden State Freeway transition road to the Harbor Freeway near Elysian Park.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Ernie Garcia said the injured person, whose identity and injuries were unknown, was taken to a downtown-area hospital. It was not known whether the victim was the driver or a passenger.
Emergency room spokesmen at County-USC Medical Center said they were swamped with earthquake injuries.
"We've had every kind of injury that can come in, and we're extremely busy with all kinds of problems from very bad to minor," he said.
The quake forced the closure of the Santa Ana and San Gabriel River freeways in the Santa Fe Springs area at the height of the morning rush hour after Caltrans engineers noted major cracks in the San Gabriel River Freeway overpass and chunks of concrete tumbled onto the roadway. A major traffic tie-up resulted as commuters were diverted onto nearby surface streets.
Kate Hutton, staff seismologist at Caltech, said the quake, which was the strongest in the Los Angeles area since the Sylmar earthquake in 1971, appeared to occur along the Whittier Fault, a massive, subterranean crack in the earth that has been the source of a number of relatively minor temblors over the years.
She said tracking equipment recorded dozens of aftershocks this morning, but none approached the 6.0 magnitude of the initial quake.
One aftershock measuring 4.4 was registered at 7:45 a.m., followed by another at 8:12 a.m. By 8:30, there had been at least a dozen more between 3.0 and 3.5
The Richter scale is a measure of ground motion as recorded on seismographs. Every increase of one number means a tenfold increase in magnitude. Thus, a reading of 7.5 reflects an earthquake 10 times stronger than one of 6.5. An earthquake of 5 on the Richter scale can cause considerable damage, while one measuring 6 can cause severe damage.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which occurred before the Richter scale was devised, has been estimated at 8.3 on the Richter scale. The 1971 quake here measured 6.4.
City workers had just begun reaching their downtown offices this morning when the quake struck.
File Cabinets Tumble
Lily Pruitt, 36, a management aide with the city Transportation Department, said she squatted on the floor of her office on the 13th floor of the Los Angeles City Hall as metal file cabinets crashed around her. She looked up to see small cracks open on the office walls.
When the first quake subsided, Harvey Lowe, 51, a material control storekeeper who was the designated civil defense warden for the floor, walked from desk to desk to make sure staffers were unhurt. Then he waited until 30 workers had gathered at the stairwell and then joined them.
On the way down, there were more shocks. As plaster rained down on them, the employees moved briskly, but there was no panic, Lowe said. "There wasn't anyone crying or hysterical," Lowe said. "But we all wanted out of there fast."
Cracks in City Hall
Large cracks were left in the City Hall facade. On the sixth floor, a fissure extended from a window facing south. On the building's east side, workmen gathered around a chunk of concrete that pushed out from the wall.
On the mall outside City Hall, Zachary Castleberry, 26, a transient from Augusta, Ga., had been sleeping in his shorts on an orange blanket unfurled on the grass. When the ground started to quiver, he sat up and watched the trees whip back and forth overhead.
"I thought they were fixing to fall," he said. Still, he sat there, dumbstruck. "It's probably another Mt. St. Helen's or something."
Castleberry watched as dozens of employees streamed out of the City Hall south exit. "They were all looking up as they came out," he said. "They looked like they had all saw ghosts."
Rescue Mission Damaged
Outside the Union Rescue Mission, 400 homeless were being served their morning meal when the shocks started. They dashed to the west side of the street as plaster and chunks of debris fell around them.
Bill Inglsey, 65, said he grabbed for a chain-link fence as an aftershock rattled the ground. Above him, a flock of startled pigeons flew off the shaking roof of the mission.
Daniel Shea, 26, a transient who had arrived in Los Angeles just three days ago from Ohio, was rounding the corner toward the mission when the ground began swaying. "I looked up and the whole church was going in and out," he said. "I've been here three days and I'm mighty tempted to go home."
Hugh Window Shatters
At the Spring Street office of the Daily Journal, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, the first shocks stripped plaster from the walls and shattered the front display window three feet from where Burt Mann, 55, dived under his desk. When he raised his head after the trembling stopped, he saw dark shards of glass resting against the potted plants inches from where he had been working.
Behind Mann in the office, advertising manager Skip Lewis, 35, felt the floor sway and dashed toward the front door, pushing a woman staffer out ahead of him. He passed through the doorway as the display window disintegrated to his left and a small shard cut his right index finger.
"Thank God that's as bad as it got," Lewis said. Surveying the damage from outside the door, he shook his head. "We were supposed to paint the walls this weekend," he said. "I guess that'll have to wait."
Ted Singer, 40, a caseworker for the state Department of Social Services, was working on files at his desk on the sixth floor of the State Office Building when papers began to fly and desks began bumping up and down.
"I thought I was dead," he said. "It shook for 2 minutes. It felt like 100 years."