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California dodges 5.4 earthquake

LOS ANGELES, July 30 – A 5.4 magnitude earthquake shook Southern California, spooking millions from Los Angeles to San Diego in a juddering reminder of the region’s vulnerability to seismic shocks.

No major injuries or damage were reported following the quake, which struck at 11:42 am (1842 GMT) Tuesday near Chino Hills, 33 miles (50 kilometres) east of Los Angeles at a depth of 7.6 miles (12 kilometres), the US Geological Survey said.

Buildings across the region swayed and shuddered, and many offices evacuated workers as a precaution following the quake.

The quake, which was followed by some 27 minor aftershocks, rippled across California and Nevada, rattling city officials in San Diego, tourists in Disneyland and residents as far east as Las Vegas, officials said.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the region had been lucky to avoid a major disaster.

"Thank God that there have not been any reports of serious injuries or damage to properties," Schwarzenegger said.  "This reminds us once again that in California we have to be prepared for anything and everything."

Henry Renteria, the director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, said he expected to receive reports of minor damage as the day progressed.

"But luckily, I think we dodged a bullet here, and have not seen any major issues with this event," Renteria told reporters.

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USGS official Kate Hutton said the earthquake was unlikely to have caused major damage to buildings.

"Things will have fallen off shelves, but I’d be surprised to see some structural damage," Hutton told reporters.

"People have forgotten what an earthquake feels like. We should look at this as an earthquake drill for the Big One that will come one day," she said.

Los Angeles’ acting mayor Wendy Greuel said five people suffered minor injuries, including two people who were trampled as they evacuated a building.

Greuel said officials had reacted calmly after the quake disrupted a city council meeting. "There was not any trauma or running out," Greuel said. "Had it gone a little longer I think we all would have gotten under our desks."

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport said that after initial inspections, operations were running as normal and that no flight schedules had been affected.

Emergency services near the epicenter of the quake in Chino Hills confirmed they had received no reports of injuries or damage.

"We felt the shock and our crews began patrolling the area for damage," said Chino Valley Fire District captain Jeremy Ault. "Our reports say there is no major structural damage or injuries."

Jerome Howard, a resident of Anaheim Hills, south of Los Angeles, told CNN he felt his house "twist." "I was sitting in my garage in a chair working on the computer. All of a sudden I felt my garage twisting," Howard said.

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Margarita Melo, a 29-year-old office worker in Ontario, said the quake had made her feel nauseous. "Everything was spinning. I kept thinking, ‘When is it going to end?’"

Phone services were "maxed out" in the immediate aftermath of the quake, the California Office of Emergency Services said, as people scrambled to phone friends and family.

Geologists say an earthquake capable of causing widespread destruction is 99 percent certain of hitting California within the next 30 years.

A study published earlier this year said a 7.8 magnitude quake could kill 1,800 people, injure 50,000 more and damage 300,000 buildings.

A 6.7 earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 left at least 60 people dead and did an estimated 10 billion dollars damage, while a 6.9 quake in San Francisco in 1989 claimed the lives of 67 people.

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