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5.4 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Los Angeles

Aired July 29, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're following the breaking news out of Los Angeles. In southern California, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck just a little bit more than an hour or so ago, followed by more than a dozen aftershocks. Getting close to two dozen aftershocks, we're told, in fact, right now.
We're told it began rather slowly, but it did gain steam. Buildings swayed for several seconds. Residents tried to get their balance, catch their breath.

The quake was centered about two miles southwest of Chino Hills and was felt as far south as San Diego. There are no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage, but we have reports coming in from all over the area. We have correspondents following what's going on as well.

You're looking at these live pictures from southern California right now.

Our Kara Finnstrom is in Los Angeles.

You felt it, Kara. First of all, tell our viewers what it felt like. You were in a building at the time.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was actually inside this building here. We're in Hollywood, at the corner of Sunset and Coanga (ph), about 30 miles away from the center of this earthquake.

We were up on the third floor. Initially, we felt kind of a rumbling. And I think everyone looked around to see if maybe a large truck was going by. You know, what exactly is this?

And then it strengthened and you knew what it was. You knew it was an earthquake, and a pretty significant one.

I ran into a doorway, a couple people ran under desks. But I think people at that point kind of just braced to see if it was going to get any stronger.

We saw, you know, the light fixtures swaying. And I would say it was more of a swaying feeling up on the third floor than anything else.

Immediately, a lot of people tried to phone, you know, relatives, loved ones, people they knew, to see if perhaps the quake had been stronger elsewhere. And the immediate thing we found was that all those phone lines were jammed, because everyone was trying to do the exact same thing.

But what the good news is, you know, now at this point we've been able to communicate with local fire and police departments. No reports of any major injuries at this point.

The governor does say that everything is being put in place to double-check all the infrastructure, the bridges, the overpasses, and to make sure that there wasn't any damage done to those. But really, just, you know, a real shake this afternoon for people all across southern California.

BLITZER: The governor, in fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kara, released a statement saying, among other things, "Our state Office of Emergency Services has reached out to local governments in the affected area to ensure that levees, bridges and other critical infrastructure are inspected and declared safe. We are activating our regional state emergency operations centers and will continue monitoring the situation closely."

We're told the quake actually centered about 29 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, near the San Bernardino County city of Chino Hills, as we said. The US Geological Survey estimated the quake was about eight miles below the earth's surface.

But based on what you're seeing in L.A., in the area where you are right now, Kara, traffic and everything else seems to be returning to normal?

FINNSTROM: Yes. I've moved out onto our balcony here, and people are moving around normally now.

There were some other high-rises in the Los Angeles area that had some precautionary evacuations. Folks a little bit jittery, wondering, of course, about aftershocks and what might come next.

We've gotten some scattered reports of damage. I spoke to one person who was having lunch in the Pasadena area, about 15 miles away from here, who said that there were glasses and dishes that fell off the wall and off the shelves. And we also heard from LAX that at one of the terminals there, some ceiling tiles fell down, and that a water pipe burst.

So, I expect that we'll hear more reports of that type of damage. But no reports of any major structural damage at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kara. Stand by. We're going to be getting back with you.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, happened to have been I think on vacation in Orange County, not very far away. This is an area where she grew up.

You were at a mall, Barbara, when this happened. You're joining us on the phone right now.

Describe what you felt and what you saw. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, it brings back a lot of childhood memories of growing up here in southern California. Actually, I was walking with my mother into a shopping mall. I am here on vacation visiting my folks. And suddenly, it's just like Kara said, I thought, is that a big truck going by?

I turned to my mom and I said, "Are we having an earthquake?" She looked at me and said, "Absolutely not." And we looked up and people started pouring out of this shopping mall. People here in southern California do very quickly recognize when an earthquake is under way, and they do obviously try to get out of buildings as quickly as possible.

But Orange County, you know, we're a good 40-plus miles away from where the epicenter was. So, it gives you an indication to the south of just how widespread this was felt across southern California this afternoon.

Everybody on their cell phones. We called -- my 91-year-old dad was home by himself, so we wanted to call and make sure he was OK.

That's what people do out here. An hour later, I have to tell you, looking around, people are talking about it, but everything returning pretty much to normal. Everyone very glad that there's no substantial damage.

We are continuing out here to feel a couple of little aftershocks, as people have been reporting. But that is typically what happens out here. I have to tell you, as a youngster, we were hit by about a 7.5 earthquake, and we had aftershocks for weeks and months on end.

So, it is a way of life out here. We're just obviously all very happy there was no reports of significant damage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a 7 -- whatever that was -- is a lot worse than a 5.4.

How is your dad, your 91-year-old dad? How did he handle it?

STARR: Well, I'm happy to tell you both mom and dad are OK. My sister and I -- it's like General Honore said. We have a family plan.

We get on the phone right away. And we know -- the cell phones were very tough around here for the first several minutes to get calls through. But that's what we do out here. That's always our plan.

We try and get a hold of them as fast as possible, make sure everybody's in one piece. Happy to say that we -- they were, and unless you tell me I need to come in and do some work, Wolf, the vacation is going to go on.

BLITZER: All right, you're clear. Go back on your vacation with the family. And give them our best.

Barbara Starr doing a little work for us on her vacation. She's a good journalist, as all of us here at CNN are.

We're standing by. We're going to be speaking momentarily with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Stand by for that. We're about to check in with him.

But Chad Myers is watching all of this as well.

You know this area, Chad. You know -- you have a lot of experience with these earthquakes. Give us some perspective.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The perspective is that the worst of this shaking happened in a newer part of the city. That is good news, because these are well-built, earthquake-ready homes.

If this had been closer to downtown, you have a lot more homes that are older. They're not prepared. They're still maybe sitting on brick foundations. Very dangerous there.

If you're on a brick foundation, you should get it upgraded.

But Chino Hills here, kind of a golfing community. Very pretty out here. Kind of pristine. Still some hills in here, still some vegetation.

And then you get in -- here's the golf course right through there. This was the major part of the quake, the 5.4, that happened at 11:42.

The good news in all of this.

BLITZER: 11:42 Pacific.

MYERS: 11:42 Pacific time, yes, exactly.

Because this happened -- and here are all the other dots. Those are all the smaller aftershocks, though many of them, really, you couldn't feel them anyway.

This was seven miles deep. That's pretty shallow. But by California standards, that's about normal. If it was 200 miles deep, you probably wouldn't have even felt it, because there's so much extra padding between you and there.

This is the shake map. You can go on Anywhere that it's orange or yellow, that's pretty good shaking.

That's strong, the very strong. Not in to the violent shaking, but still pretty strong. But if you get out toward Long Beach and L.A., and then east toward Riverside, you're back into the greens, which is just light shaking itself.

One thing -- General Honore was talking about this earlier -- if you walk into your home today, tonight, you should smell for gas first. Certainly don't be smoking a cigarette as you walk into your home. Also, I recommend, too, because sometimes your gas line comes into your garage, don't use your garage door opener to get the first thing into the house. That garage door opener is a motor. The motor can have sparks inside, because that's how motors work around and around and around. And if there's a gas pocket in your garage, that pocket could go off.

Go inside the house with a key first, smell around, make sure, and then do all the rest, because the biggest threat is going to be water main breaks, going to be bridges that maybe have a little bit of a crack in them. You're probably going to see, if you're in this area, you're going to see drywall cracked. But that's probably about it. Maybe a couple of dishes off the walls or off the shelves.

But you just want to be careful that there's not a small, small gas break, because natural gas is easy to smell. They put the chemical in there so you can smell it. That's probably the biggest threat that we right now tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chad, listen to this. We interviewed some people who went through the 5.4 magnitude earthquake. I want to play these little clips. Stand by for a second.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden it started shaking. I saw the walls moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, I was about to sip on my coffee, and the whole thing started to shake up. And, you know, because I worked right on the corner, I think I felt it even before the whole, like, shook-up (ph), you know, happened. It was pretty interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was looking under the record racks, right? I thought someone was pushing it, shaking it. And I realized afterwards that if something were to happen, if that thing were to fall, it would have, you know, crushed my head.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm still, you know, kind of shooken (ph) up.


BLITZER: All right, Chad. You get the sense, those people lived through it. It could be pretty scary. I've gone through an earthquake. And if you don't know what's going on, you can get pretty scared.

MYERS: You know, I got an e-mail from Armand (ph), one of my viewers out there. He was 15 miles away in Glendale, and he said, "If this is only a 5.4, I don't want to be around for a 7.5, because this thing really shook."

And it shook because it was a seven-mile-deep quake. And not much padding there.

And this was a pretty good shaker, I think, and people do get shook up with this. And if you're not from there, if you have no idea what to do, it will get on your nerves in a big hurry.

BLITZER: And we're just getting this in, Chad, also from the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. It says the earthquake evidently knocked out a ground radar system at LAX, the major airport in Los Angeles, but did not interfere with operations.

The ground radar system is used to help controllers monitor traffic on the ground. They're working to restore the system now.

It also resulted, according to the FAA, in some minor runway damage at John Wayne Airport in Orange County and over at the Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California. But airport operations there are normal.

So, I guess a 5.4 is enough to cause some sort of damage.

MYERS: Yes, absolutely. You can get shaking, the buckling.

We had pictures earlier, Wolf, of a water main break actually in L.A., almost 20 miles from the epicenter, and that water main break, because of the infrastructure, you get brittle pipes. If you start to shake the ground and it wobbles enough, you're going to break those old pipes, you're going to break some copper pipes, you're probably going to break some gas lines as well.

This isn't really over, although this isn't a huge story like the quake we had in China. I mean, this just isn't -- it isn't that kind of a shake, but certainly if you live there, you need to take the precautions that we talked about.

BLITZER: And the precautions are really, really important.

Stand by, Chad. We're going to get back to you as well.

Paul Vercammen, our CNN producer, is in Chino Hills right now.

You're on the phone, right, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, I'm walking through the Ace hardware store here in Chino Hills. This is a shopping mall where they really felt the quake strong. In fact, folks here said for a moment there, they felt like the roof was going to fall.

And the good news here, nobody hurt. But they certainly feared all the stuff that fell off the shelves. Mainly smaller things.

You know, I'm looking at bottles right now of, you know, cleaner and various cleansers and wood sheen and things like that. But throughout this hardware store they did have stuff come rocking off the shelves. And another person in a shop described to me -- he said, "It's kind of like we were in a popcorn machine and we were getting jolted up and down." I think the good news here, Wolf, as we walk around, is everybody is back to business. And I think you know how Californians can be about earthquakes. They almost become a matter of fact.

And certainly, this was a strong earthquake. It felt like it was something that could cause more damage. It went on for about 15 or 20 seconds. We felt it at our bureau in Los Angeles.

But here in Chino Hills, I think the good news is that there is not serious damage. At least none that we can see. Just the kind of stuff I described to you form this Ace hardware store, where it jerked it strong and stuff fell off the shelves.

And if you don't mind, I'll try to talk live to one of the persons who was in the middle of all this.

Can tell me, what did it feel like as this it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt -- it just felt like a big old jolt and like a shake. I thought it was someone walking out from our back -- in our back warehouse. And I thought, oh, well, it was just someone shutting the door. And all of a sudden, I felt something start rolling, and I just ran out from the break room, ran all the way outside.

VERCAMMEN: A lot of people here, Wolf, ran outside. And they were worried that this, again, was going to be stronger. And some of them said they felt a tremendous sense of panic.

But as I said to you, so far, so good. And Chino Hills residents, though, nerves are jangled. They are looking at me nodding. Nothing too serious to report.

BLITZER: And so, Chino Hills, that's where the epicenter was, and that's encouraging to know that, yes, a lot of the shelves, they lost their products, but if that's the worst of it, that would be good.

All right. We're going to check back with you, Paul, as soon as you get some more information. You're there at the epicenter.

Our Ed Lavandera is at the scene as well.

Ed, first of all, tell our viewers where you are, what you saw and what you felt.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're south of Los Angeles, in Anaheim. I'm actually on vacation with the family.

And we were in Disneyland, and my boy was getting ready to get on a ride called the Astro Orbiter, which is just a simple little rocket ship that spins around in a circle. And all of a sudden, you felt everything -- felt the ride making some kind of weird noise, like some clanking going back and forth.

And I thought, oh, that's weird. And actually, for a moment I thought it was just part of the ride because I saw it was coming down. It was wrapping up.

So I figured, oh, maybe it's just a little bit of shaking, you know, the nice little thing they do at the end of the ride or something to kind of make the kids laugh. And then I realized, the ride's not moving anymore. We're the ones moving.

So the whole thing lasted less than five seconds. We just kind of swayed back and forth a little bit.

I have never been in an earthquake before in my life, so this was quite an experience. And after that, they told everyone to get off the rides, make their way away from the rides. And throughout the park, you just started seeing everybody spilling out of buildings and kind of walking.

It was very calm. And basically we've just been told, heard over the P.A. announcement here at the park, that they have been testing the rides, making sure everything is OK. And it sounds like they anticipate everything to reopen here at some point today.

BLITZER: But they are not saying when. Right now none of the rides are not reopened, is that right, Ed?

LAVANDERA: That's right. Everyone's just kind of camped out, waling around, trying to find some shade to sit under. You know, and everyone is just kind of waiting to see what will happen.

We've been told by a lot of park officials that a lot of people will probably be heading home for the day after all of this. And, you know, the strange thing about all of this, Wolf, is that -- and it's the moments afterwards, you know, when it's actually happening, you don't really get a sense that it's an earthquake.

But in the seconds afterwards, it's when it really kind of settles in that, oh, my gosh, that was the ground shaking, and you don't really -- you know, that there's aftershocks on the way. You just don't know when or if it's going to happen.

So, that was kind of the unsettling part throughout the moments right afterwards. But we haven't felt any aftershocks down where we are. We just felt that initial jolt.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Good luck resuming your vacation with the family. Thanks for calling in.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, has just announced he'll be holding a news conference shortly. We'll, of course, bring that to you live.

We're also standing by to speak live with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. We're about to speak with him.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage, and all the day's news, coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're going to be getting an update from the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, on the 5.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Los Angeles area. It was felt all the way down in San Diego as well. There have been a series of aftershocks, at least a dozen, maybe closer now to two dozen.

We're watching this story very closely. We'll speak with the mayor shortly.

We're also standing by for a news conference from the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We'll bring that to you live once he goes to the microphones.

I want to check back with Chad Myers, though, because he's got some useful information on what the people in California have just experienced.

It was about, what, an hour and a half or so ago when they felt that 5.4 magnitude earthquake?

MYERS: That's correct. Exactly 11:42 local time.

What's behind me is a seismogram. Kind of what the Richter Scale kind of looks like. This is just a digital interpretation.

Every line that goes across, Wolf, is 15 minutes. So you see, this was 9:00 a.m. to 10:00, 10:00 to 11:00.

And then, Dave, pull this back down for me.

Every time it updates it switches and we have to do this, but that's OK.

Keep going, Dave.

There we go.

OK. So now, 10:00 to 11:00, 11:00 to 12:00, and that 11:00 to 12:00 line is blue, and it's flat, flat, flat, flat, flat, until it gets to that point, and then it is shaking all the way off the scale here.

Then back, and it changes colors to green, still shaking. Then we didn't have anything for a while, and then another big aftershock right here about nine minutes later, Wolf, and then the rest of the aftershocks, 1s and 2s, basically you can't feel that at all.

So, one big aftershock, 3.8, and then a couple 2.8s. But a lot of shaking still going on.

And obviously you said 15 to 20. Some of these aftershocks will actually be combined.

The original aftershocks now are only computer-generated. As soon as the seismologist goes to look at maybe those two right there -- look how close they are -- maybe they'll be -- well, you know what? That one happened at 11:51, and the other one happened at 11:51:30. It was probably be the same shake, so they'll combine them.

See the 1.7. There you go. Dave Hennen is doing that for me -- 1.3 on that one. So these are not big shakes whatsoever.

BLITZER: Chad, I want you to watch this videotape that is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. And I want our viewers to watch it as well.

I haven't seen it yet, but we're going to see the L.A. City Council. They were in the midst of their meeting once the earthquake happened. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go. We'll show -- you see this, and you can see the cameras immediately going away from the speaker.

Everybody sort of -- that look that we all felt inside no matter where you're -- what's going on. Everybody kind of pausing to see. Sort of a discussion. Gee, there may be an earthquake happening here.

But no obvious panic. Just sort of concern. And we see a little bit of shaking there from a light in the city council chamber.

There was a live camera there. I suspect during the course of the day we will see more footage from other events that are regularly covered.


BLITZER: All right. There you saw it, Chad. You see that shaking.

You know, they sort of get somewhat blase in southern California, and in northern California, for that matter, because they know they're in this earthquake zone. But when it does happen, you know, people get somewhat jolted.

MYERS: I think people should have been moving there, because even though it was only light at the start right there, they weren't feeling much, you don't know if that's the beginning of something much bigger. You want to react as soon as you feel something, you want to react and get in those doorways or get outside. You don't want to get outside by a bunch of glass falling down on you from the top, but you've got to think about where you are and get to the safest point there.

But that was almost 20 miles away from the epicenter, and they might have felt something like a 2.8 or a 3.2, compared to the people -- when we get some video out of Yorba Linda or Chino, you're going to see some shaking. There was some pretty good shaking here in this city, but most of it was east of L.A., and then you get back toward Riverside and it kind of lightened up there.

But when you get into this orange, this orange, you're talking about very strong to severe shaking but not quite violent. And it only happened for a few seconds. Luckily, it wasn't a five-or-ten- minute shaking. Only a few seconds at a time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Chad, because we're going to get back to you.

We have got one of the public information officers from Chino Hills, southeast of Los Angeles. This is the area where the -- where the epicenter actually took place.

Michelle Van Der Linden -- and I hope I'm pronouncing your name right, Michelle. But tell us what happened where you are.

MICHELLE VAN DER LINDEN, CHINO HILLS, CALIFORNIA: Hi there, Wolf. This is Michelle Van Der Linden. I'm the public information officer for the city of Chino, which is the adjacent community to Chino Hills.

And basically I was in a meeting with the city manager when the earthquake started. And, you know, being a southern California resident my whole life, we just kind of looked at each other and knew what was going on.

But as the earthquake progressed, it seemed like it lasted quite some time and was getting rockier. And we stepped away from the windows and got under some doorways and rode it out, and then immediately turned on the news. And the initial reports were that it was a very low-level earthquake.

That's what we saw immediately when we turned on the television. And so we knew that we were very close to the epicenter, because that was -- you know, we both knew that that was a very strong magnitude earthquake.

BLITZER: And you're saying it was about 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds? How long did you feel that initial tremor?

VAN DER LINDEN: Well, I think when you're in the scenario, it always seems like it's longer. You know, to me, it seemed like it was 20 seconds. But I know I must be mistaken.

BLITZER: And have there been any significant -- or any reports of significant damage in the Chino area?

VAN DER LINDEN: There have not. The Chino Police Department, as well as the city Public Works Department, are out in the community assessing damage. And it's been very, very minor up to this point.

BLITZER: In terms of Chino itself, I don't know how many years you've lived there, but give us some sort of ranking how this earthquake ranks with some of the other ones over the years.

VAN DER LINDEN: Well, I'll tell you, because the news is already out there. I'm 40. I've lived in southern California my whole life, and this is by far the most severe earthquake that I've personally have ever encountered.

BLITZER: In Chino, where you live right now. VAN DER LINDEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And so what's going on? I mean, are local fire officials and police, first responders, are they out there? What are they doing?

VAN DER LINDEN: They are. They're out in the community, like I said, and just assessing the damage. So far it's been very, very little.

They are taking calls from constituents that are calling in and reporting damage. But at this point it's been very, very minimal.

BLITZER: All right, Michelle. Good luck to everyone out there. Thanks very much.

Michelle Van Der Linden is a public information officer for Chino, which is right near the epicenter of this earthquake.

Our Ted Rowlands is also there as well right now.

Ted, exactly where are you? And give us the sense -- we see you now. Where are you?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in Chino as well, where the epicenter of this quake took place. We're just close to where the individual you were just interviewing.

We're in a hardware store, and you can see the old cleanup is going on right now. A lot of stuff fell off the shelves here and in grocery stores around here. But that, you know, was basically the most severe damage that we've been hearing here in Chino.

On our way down here, we stopped in southern Los Angeles, just outside the city, where there was a water main break and some buckling of the roadway. Right now there's a lot of assessing going on -- bridges, trains, all of those things.

The airports, you heard the updates at LAX and the other airports in the area. They're making sure that everything is safe. The trains in Los Angeles right now only going 15 miles per hour. They're going to increase that every 30 minutes until rush hour. They're hoping to get them back at full speed.

But right now, basically everybody's taking a deep breath and assessing any significant damage, if there is any. Right now, all you're hearing is reports of, oh, boy, this is what happened. And when it did happen, people were coming out of the high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles. They felt it in Las Vegas and all the way down in San Diego.

But really, the damage at this point is a lot like this -- things just needing to be cleaned up. Nothing significant. No injuries to report right now. But everybody is still collectively assessing their different cities, their different municipalities. But the good news right now, Wolf, though, is this is pretty much it in terms of damage from this 5.4.

BLITZER: And you've been -- how long have you lived in California, Ted?

ROWLANDS: About 10 years. So, I felt a few earthquakes throughout my tenure here. But my wife is a longtime -- a lifelong resident. And boy, she was underneath the kitchen table with our -- with one of our daughters.

It depended where you were in southern California. In other areas, people thought it wasn't that big a deal. But where we live, in Glendale, very significant shaking. Very long shaking. And people were very surprised and are very surprised that there wasn't more damage because of the intensity of this 5.4.

BLITZER: Ted, stand by. We're going to come back to you.

We're also standing by to interview the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He's expected here in THE SITUATION ROOM shortly. He's out in Los Angeles.

Also, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has announced he'll be holding a news conference, assessing what's going on.

They're all collecting information right now, as we are as well.

We'll take a quick break. More of our coverage, the earthquake in southern California, right after this.


BLITZER: We're continuing here in THE SITUATION ROOM our coverage of this strong earthquake that occurred just under two hours or so ago out in Southern California, southeast of Los Angeles, about 20 miles or so, in Chino Hills. That's the epicenter, but this earthquake was felt all the way south of San Diego. And even in Las Vegas, they felt this earthquake.

There have been about 15 or 20 aftershocks since the 5.4- magnitude earthquake. We're watching the aftereffects -- so far, no significant reports of damage. But we're beginning to assess what's going on. We're standing by to speak with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as to hear from the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Right now, let's bring in Dr. Lucy Jones. She is the chief scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Dr. Jones, where were you when this earthquake hit?

DR. LUCY JONES, CHIEF SCIENTIST, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: I was meeting with the heads of emergency management for Orange County to discuss earthquake planning in Santa Ana, only about 10 miles or so from the epicenter. In a roomful of emergency managers, I have never seen duck and cover happen so fast. BLITZER: Well, what did they -- what did they do? These are -- these are specialists who understand, obviously, the -- the effects of earthquakes.

JONES: Right.

Well, every one of us got under the table immediately, because it was clear that this was a strong enough earthquake to be in danger from things falling on us, and rode it out. And, luckily, all of our automatic systems to process things worked correctly, and we were able -- I was able to bring up information on the earthquake in less than a minute on my computer, after it stopped shaking.

BLITZER: What did you discover?

JONES: Well, as you have heard, at that point, we were saying magnitude 5.6. It's worked out now to 5.4 -- saw that it was located only about 10 miles away, basically, right at the county border, where Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties come together.

So, the Orange County people quickly evacuated the building, made sure everyone was OK, and took off to work.

BLITZER: Why does that happen? Initial reports said it was -- what -- 5.8, 5.9. Then it was downgraded to 5.6, now 5.4. Explain that process.

JONES: Well, all right, there's -- in -- there's a variety of ways in which we can estimate it. And there's a very quick way that gave us 5.6.

And then there's more accurate ways. But there's -- there's two different approaches, one that's called local magnitude, and one that's called moment magnitude.

And we consider the moment magnitude more accurate, but it takes longer to get. So, we went 5.6, 5.8, 5.4 all within about 10 minutes. It used to take us a month to get that much information.

BLITZER: A 5.4 earthquake in a heavily populated area outside of Los Angeles, in the L.A. area, the L.A. County area, down in Orange County, all the way felt down in San Diego, normally -- and you -- you do models under these circumstances -- how much damage should we expect from a 5.4 earthquake whose epicenter was around Chino Hills?

JONES: Well, I'm driving over there to see it right at this moment, actually.

I would expect, actually, not too much, for two reasons. One is, the earthquake was relatively deep. So, it was -- we started at 12 kilometers deep. And that means, by definition, it's 12 kilometers -- or eight miles -- away from everyone.

In addition, California building...

BLITZER: Is -- in other words... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second.

The -- the earthquake hit about eight miles below the surface. Is that considered deep, or is it considered shallow?

JONES: That's deep for Southern California -- for California.

There are places in the world where it gets a lot deeper. But we sometimes will have earthquakes that are only two or three miles down. And those are felt much more strongly than one like this that's deeper. It tends to be felt over a somewhat bigger area when it's deeper, because it can travel out farther that way.

The other aspect, though, is that California building codes and -- and earthquake mitigation measures over the years have paid off. And, essentially, this area, Yorba Linda, is a relatively new construction, and the building codes have improved with time. So, the newer buildings in general do better.

And I wouldn't think that there would be damage to structures out here. Now, at this level, this is very equivalent to the Upland earthquake of 1990, only about 20 miles away and the same size. And, as I remember it, the total damage out of Upland was, I think, about $40 million.

BLITZER: Well, the...

JONES: Most of the damage to things thrown around, like -- what I would expect to see is that there were a lot of objects thrown off of shelves in stores. There can be quite a financial hit from -- you know, wine bottles being thrown to the ground will end up doing you quite a -- quite a financial hit.

And that would be the sort of thing where I would expect the damage. We might have some older houses that have lost their chimneys. That might happen at this magnitude, only near the fault, though.

And the perception of it, though, will be a very strong shaking, because, when you're near it, and you get a lot of high-frequency shaking, very jolty, it's -- it's quite scary.


JONES: But it's the longer period -- it's longer-duration motion that does a lot of the damage.

BLITZER: Dr. Jones, good luck to you and to all the folks down there. Thanks very much. Excellent explanation of what's going on.

Dr. Lucy Jones is the chief scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. She was in that area, only about eight or 12 miles from the epicenter. And, interestingly, she and her colleagues were having a meeting, getting ready for emergency preparedness for earthquakes, once this 5.4 earthquake actually hit, Dr. Lucy Jones.

We're going to be speaking with the mayor of Los Angeles shortly. We will get his sense of what's going on. The governor of California is going to be holding a news conference.

We will continue our coverage.

We are also going to show you a computer simulation of this earthquake that we're just getting in to THE SITUATION ROOM -- much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're watching the breaking news out of Southern California right now, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake striking about 20 or 25 miles or so southeast of Los Angeles, the epicenter around Chino Hills.

But this earthquake was felt all the way south in San Diego. It was even felt in Las Vegas.

That's where we're going to go right now.

The mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, is joining us on the phone.

Mayor, what did you feel out in Vegas?

OSCAR GOODMAN (D), MAYOR OF LAS VEGAS: Well, I tell you one thing, Wolf. I don't like earthquakes. So, I knew what was happening when I'm sitting here on the 10th floor of city hall and I begin to see the -- the drapes move slowly, and I feel a rolling motion under my feet, and then a queasiness in my stomach.

So, it was no fun. It lasted, I would say, for five to eight seconds. And it seems like it's a lifetime.

BLITZER: Because I have been in your office over there at city hall. I know you have a lot of mementos out there. Were things falling off shelves, or does -- is everything in place?

GOODMAN: Everything's in place, even the gin bottles.


BLITZER: I know you have got a few of those. But -- but, fortunately, everybody's OK in Vegas.



BLITZER: I assume it's -- it's far enough away from the epicenter. People felt a little bit of motion, but, other than that, that was that? GOODMAN: Yes, no damage at all. And we didn't have to activate our emergency operation system here. Everything was business as usual. But, when you're up in the -- the -- the top floors, you did feel it. There's no question about that.

BLITZER: But you -- did you feel the actual city hall buildings swaying a little bit, or would -- would that go too far?

GOODMAN: No question.

No, no. The top floors were definitely swaying. As I say, the drapes were swaying, and the building was swaying. And everybody became a little alarmed. But we have had training on this, since Nevada really is the third most seismically active state, believe it or not.

And we take the potential of an earthquake very seriously. We have trained for it. I went back to Emmitsburg, Maryland, for a -- a FEMA session on how to handle the situation. And the -- the model for the exercise was an earthquake. So, we're used to it.

And everybody got away from the windows. And we sent out an e- mail to all the employees, if there were any aftershocks, what type of protective action they should take. So, everything was good.

BLITZER: Thank God for that.

Mayor, thanks very much for letting us know what it felt like in Vegas.

GOODMAN: It's always good talking to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mayor Oscar Goodman is the mayor of Las Vegas.

They felt it there.

Ted Rowlands is a lot closer to the epicenter. In fact, he's in Chino Hills right now.

Ted, are you in Chino Hills or in Chino?

ROWLANDS: Chino Hills at the Ace Hardware store.

And we just showed you some damage earlier. There it is again. They are still clearing things up, as a number of these aisles have things out. And everybody of course talking about it, and that seems to be the biggest thing from this earthquake. Rather than significant damage or any injuries, it was just -- it -- really, it unnerved people. And each person has a different story. And it is just really amazing.

Some of the damage we did encounter on our way down here, one significant water main break, probably just an old pipe that burst. It basically not only sent water up, but it -- it -- it damaged the roadway in an intersection just south of downtown Los Angeles. Now, in downtown Los Angeles, of course, in the high-rises, people were streaming out of them after this earthquake started, because, you know, when -- when an earthquake starts, you just don't know when it's going to end, and you don't know how significant it is.

And I can tell you, most people thought, after they felt this earthquake, that it would have been more significant than a 5.4, thought that it was a little bit longer and a little bit more intense than normally would be associated with a 5.4.

But, of course, the good news is, is that it is a wakeup call. Yes, there are earthquakes in Southern California, but not a lot of damage, at least this time around. And, as you see employees here at the old Ace Hardware talk, everybody's got a different story.

And Glenda (ph) here was just telling us about how she was -- you were pretty shook up, huh?


ROWLANDS: What did it feel like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really, really bad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was -- just the first impression was my son. I have a son in a day care. So, mm-hmm.

ROWLANDS: Could you get -- that is another problem, Wolf, is that the cell phones in Southern California went down initially.

Did you get ahold of your son right away, or was there some time lapse there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was a couple of seconds, and then it went through.

ROWLANDS: And that -- that -- that was one of the problems is -- and a significant problem -- as soon as the earthquake hit, the cell phone traffic was so intense, that it collapsed the system. And it was very difficult to get through.

I know, personally, I was trying to get through to my wife, a lot of people in the same boat, all trying to get ahold of their loved ones. But, like we say, little damage here, and a 5.4 just really a wakeup call and a reminder from Mother Nature. And significant -- significant damage, haven't seen it yet. Of course, they're still assessing bridges and roadways, rails, still in that assessing period, will be for the next few hours, but good news, at least right now, in Southern California.

BLITZER: All right, Ted, we're going to continue to check back with you. Thanks very much.

We will continue our coverage right after this with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa -- much more of our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM after this.


BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, an earthquake in Southern California, a 5.4 magnitude. This is considered a strong earthquake. And there have been a series of aftershocks since then.

It really occurred, the epicenter, about 20 miles or so southeast of Los Angeles, in the Chino Hills area.

But let's check in with the mayor of Los Angeles right now, Antonio Villaraigosa.

Mayor, thanks very much. I know this is a nightmare scenario for all the local officials, state officials, in Southern California, Northern California for that part, as well. This was a strong earthquake, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: It could have been a whole lot worse, Wolf.

As I -- I have been informed by the emergency operations center, which we activated today, all our agencies are on alert. And our preliminary analysis is that there's been no serious structural damage throughout the city of Los Angeles, and no injuries as well.

I spoke with Governor Schwarzenegger, and he informed me that the same is true, at least with respect to injuries and the like, in Chino. But, obviously, we're continuing to monitor it.

And, as you said, there are aftershocks. But, at this point, it doesn't look like, despite the -- the power of this earthquake, that there weren't any injuries in the city of Los Angeles or the region at this point.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging, Mayor. Where were you when this earthquake struck?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, where I am right now is in London, and with my son vacationing.

But I have, as I said, spoke with the governor, with our local -- the head of the fire department and police department as well. There is, at this time, no need for concern, because there aren't any injuries or any damage.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging, as well. And I hope you will be able to resume your vacation with your son.

What is the normal operating procedure in a situation like this? I know you have had all sorts of drills with a 5.0, a 5.4, a 6.0, 7.0. And, with every tenth of a percentage point, it gets increasingly more devastating.

What's the normal -- the normal scenario with a 5.4 earthquake in the L.A. area? VILLARAIGOSA: Well, with any emergency, what happens is, we put -- our emergency operation center is activated to various levels, in this case, activated as a level two, which means all our agencies are on alert. The heads of critical agencies are situated in the EOC.

I would normally be heading that. Our -- we -- I have someone, the speaker -- the council member pro tem is in charge at this point in the city. We -- we -- we have made sure that the police department, fire department, the department of water and power, and all the various agencies have gone throughout the city to assess damage and injury.

And, as I said, at this point, there are none.

BLITZER: The FAA did tell us, Mayor -- the Federal Aviation Administration -- that the earthquake did knock out, at least temporarily, the ground radar system over at LAX, the airport. But it hasn't interfered with airport operations.

The ground radar system is used to help controllers monitor traffic on the ground, but the radar for incoming and outgoing flights is OK. There were some -- also some runway problems in Ontario at the international airport there, and at John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

I guess, with a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, you have got to expect some some -- some sorts of problems along these lines.

VILLARAIGOSA: That's -- that's a good point.

Ground radar was lost for approximately one minute. Now, as you said, no flights were affected. No repairs were necessary. There weren't any reports of any injuries or damages. There was a broken water heater near gate 71, terminal seven, but, other than that, nothing to report.

We have checked our parts -- our port. As I said, the -- the department of water and power is the largest municipal utility in the United States, and there were no reports of any damage to the city's water and power system at this time.

BLITZER: Well, as we said, thank God. It could have been a whole lot worse.


BLITZER: It doesn't look like it's all that bad. But any earthquake, obviously, has some problems.

Mayor, thanks very much for updating us, for spending a few moments with us.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will continue our coverage of this earthquake in Southern California. We're also going to update you on all the day's other news -- lots of news happening on the political front and other fronts as well -- much more of our coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, an earthquake, a strong earthquake, 5.4-magnitude, in Southern California, the epicenter about 20 miles or so southeast of Los Angeles.

The earthquake was felt, obviously, in the L.A. area, in Orange County, all the way down to San -- San Diego, also in Las Vegas. We spoke just a little while ago with Mayor Oscar Goodman in Las Vegas. He was in his office on the 10th floor at city hall, and he could feel that building shake. He could see the drapes in his office move. He said he had that queasy feeling in his stomach.

Our own Kareen Wynter is in -- in San Diego right now.

Kareen, you felt it there, right, Kareen?


And I can tell you, also, though, that many nerves are still quite shaken here, where we are. We were actually on the road working on a story for your show. We were shooting inside a building when this all happened. A few people here noticed everything, from chairs moving, computer monitors, bookbags.

One person I spoke with, Wolf, directly after -- immediately after this said that he felt dizzy. They thought that it was perhaps a train that had caused all this, because there's a train track nearby where we are. But they said, when they saw the chairs moving, you know, they -- they knew it was definitely different.

And, Wolf, what you have to understand, this is not just a scary thing to have happen. It's such an out-of-body experience. As I looked around the room, I saw several people with this glazed, almost confused look in their eyes. And the important thing this really raises is just the nervous energy that many of us have here in California as we await the inevitable.

One of our producers, Jack Hannah (ph), out here immediately got on the phone with the public information officer for San Diego Emergency Services. And the good news, they said, no damages, no injuries. And this was a poll of all 18 cities in San Diego County. We're still awaiting reports from area airports for possible damages.

We also checked the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that is out here -- no damage on that end as well, so, still a bit preliminary, Wolf, but wanted to give you a snapshot of where things stand out here in San Diego.

BLITZER: In -- in San -- in San Diego. All right, Kareen, that's good to know. Thanks very much for checking in with us.

Chad Myers is watching this as well.

And, Chad, I take it we have some sort of computer simulation of what exactly happened with this earthquake.

MYERS: I am seeing it right over your shoulder, Wolf. It is quite spectacular. Caltech has already put it together here.

The shaking here really centered over -- over Chino and the areas through there. But this will actually show you. This animation will you show you how this thing spread out and why they felt it all the way down in San Diego.

Yes, the epicenter was where it was. It was relatively shallow. And I know I got -- I heard you talk to the doctor about that -- relatively shallow, because some earthquakes can be 200 miles deep. And then you have 200 miles worth of padding before it even hits the surface.

This was only seven miles deep. Now, by California standards, that's actually probably on the deep side of shallow. But, still, we had -- everybody was seven miles from the shake. Essentially, even if you were right above it, you were still seven miles away, not 200 miles away, but still seven miles away. And, then, the farther you got away, the less shaking that there was.

Two types of waves, a primary and a secondary, a P wave and an S wave. The primary wave is -- let's say you take a Slinky and you hold this end here, and then you just push the Slinky and the whole thing kind of compresses. That's the one that you feel first. And, then, all of a sudden you get the secondary wave, and it's a shake wave, almost like in the shame of an S. And that s is the one that really can do damage to high-rise buildings and to buildings that aren't prepared for that type of wobbling on their -- on their -- on foundation, especially old brick foundations that still exist in Hollywood and in L.A., some of those old buildings built back in the late 1800s.

Still, if you haven't had them updated, you need to think about it, for sure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I just want to make sure that I'm -- I'm right. There's a 5.4 earthquake, and then there are a series of 10 or 15 or 20 aftershocks, much, much smaller. Does -- but -- but I just want to be precise and -- and make sure that the 5.4 earthquake is not necessarily a precursor to an even bigger earthquake that could follow.

MYERS: Wolf, I can't guarantee you that. It could go that way. Sometimes, they do.

BLITZER: Does that -- does that ever happen?

MYERS: It absolutely does. Sometimes -- sometimes, it can go that way.

And the whole -- the whole thing is, now, we're getting into a new moon coming up in just two days. A new moon and a full moon, although not believed by every scientist -- I have heard it a number of places -- you have to think that a new moon and a full moon both make very big stretches on the -- on the surface, especially higher tides at the new moon and the full moon, rather than on the quarters.

And, now, as we're approaching the new moon, the Earth's kind of getting pulled apart a little bit of extra by the sun and the moon. Although they are far apart, they still have gravity. That's why we have tides in the first place. So, that all -- it could be a precursor. Most of the time, it's not. I don't know the number, but I would say at least 95 percent of the time, it's the big one, and then the littler ones after that.

And 5.4, it's a pretty good shake, but I think we're going to see broken windows, maybe a couple of dishes off the walls, maybe some -- some broken plaster and drywall. But, other than that -- I don't see too much other than that.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, thanks very much.

MYERS: Sure.

BLITZER: We're going to check back with Chad -- with -- with Chad Myers. He knows a lot about these kinds of earthquakes.

Just to recap for our viewers who may just be tuning in, a 5.4- magnitude earthquake struck in Southern California today, about 20 miles or so southeast of Los Angeles, the epicenter around Chino Hills.

But this earthquake was not only felt in L.A. and in Orange County, but all the way south to San Diego, as you heard from our Kareen Wynter. It was also felt as far away as Las Vegas. You heard from the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. He was joining us. He was on the 10th floor of city hall. He could feel it. He got that queasy -- queasy -- feeling in city hall.

These are pictures you're getting in right now, we're getting in THE SITUATION ROOM, from Los Angeles International Airport, LAX. You can see some of the damage of the -- of the -- at the airport. We had heard from the mayor that there was some damage at the airport, but now we're getting these pictures coming in.

You can see, the ceiling started to -- to drip. We don't know if there was a water pipe. It looks like a water pipe may have broken in the -- in the terminal. And the sprinkler system -- maybe it's the sprinkler system that started to release the water as well, but these pictures just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from LAX.

I'm now being told, by the way, it was a water heater that simply broke down and ripped apart. And you can see the damage at LAX just beginning to come in. I suspect we're going to be getting a lot more pictures like this, not only from LAX, but elsewhere in the Los Angeles area and Orange County, especially in the area around this epicenter in Chino Hills and in Chino, where this earthquake took place.

There's going to be some damage, but not nearly as significant as a more significant earthquake would have caused. But it will cause some problems.

Ted Rowlands is watching all of this. He's right at the -- at the epicenter in Chino Hills.

Ted, you're at that Ace Hardware store, where they're -- they were cleaning up, because the shelves started to collapse, and some of those items began to fall off.

ROWLANDS: Yes, the employees said, as soon as the earthquake happened, basically, all of the aisles had stuff on the floor. And, for the last two hours, the better part of two hours, they have been cleaning it up. And they have pretty much gotten most of it done. There was some paint spilled on the other aisle. There's some -- still some debris here.

But the big thing is the nerve damage -- people's nerves. People are -- they're still buzzing about it and talking about it. And it was really a very significant earthquake in southern California. And it's the first in a long period of time. So, a lot of people really just catching their breath now after what was a very nerve-racking period of time.

We heard people talking about not being able to get ahold of loved ones for a certain amount of time. And a lot of people thought the damage would be more significant once they came out of their homes and once they were -- all of the damage was assessed. And it is still being assessed, Wolf, throughout southern California. And typically what you'll find is that in the hours and even days afterwards, things will come up. That yes, this bridge did suffer some problems, and they'll have to go in and look at it, or this roadway had some buckling.

We heard a report about a bridge where there was a gap in it that wasn't there before. They were assessing that. Roadways -- we heard -- we saw a main break in southern -- or just south of Los Angeles, where the road was buckled. So, in the next few hours, we'll get, most likely, some more reports of potentially minor damage, maybe some more significant damage. But at this point, the good news is it's a lot of rattled nerves and a lot of cleaning up to do in grocery stores, in places like this, Ace Hardware.

BLITZER: And as we were saying, it could have been a whole, whole lot worse.

Ted, thanks. Stand by in Chino Hills, right at the epicenter of this 5.4 magnitude earthquake.