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    The largest earthquake in two decades rattled Southern California on Thursday morning, shaking communities from Las Vegas to Long Beach and ending a quiet period in the state’s seismic history.

    Striking at 10:33 a.m., the magnitude 6.4 temblor was centered about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the remote Searles Valley area of Kern County.

    Authorities said there were no immediate reports of deaths, serious injuries or major infrastructure damage, though emergency responders were still inspecting areas around the city of Ridgecrest..

    Patients at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital were evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” hospital Chief Executive James Suver said. About 20 patients were transferred to other facilities while seismic engineers inspected broken pipes in the facility.

    “For true emergencies, we will stabilize them and then get them to the right level of care,” he said.

    Slideshow by photo services

    Ridgecrest, a community of about 29,000 known to many skiers as a pit stop on the way to Mammoth, was inundated with offers of help, from neighboring towns, congressional leaders such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Kamala Harris and even the White House, Mayor Peggy Breeden said.

    ”With all this cooperation … we expect we will be able to move on to this and not see too many awful things happen,” Breeden said.

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    The quake was the largest with an epicenter in Southern California since the 7.1 Hector Mine quake struck the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in 1999. The last earthquake felt as widely as Thursday’s was the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Easter Sunday 2010 that had an epicenter across the border in Baja California.

    a close up of a map? Jon Schleuss / Los Angeles Times Before Thursday, it had been almost five years since the state experienced an earthquake of magnitude 6 or stronger. Experts had said the period of calm was sure to end, and when it did it would likely bring destruction.

    The sparsely populated location of the Searles Valley quake appeared to mitigate the damage. A similar temblor in Los Angeles, such as 1994’s 6.7 Northridge earthquake, would have undoubtedly meant deaths and severe property damage.

    The rocking in Searles Valley began with an initial quake of magnitude 4 at 10:02 a.m. Seven minutes later, a 2.5 temblor struck. About 22 minutes later, a prolonged shaking began about five miles underground.

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    The quake hit as children were putting on a Fourth of July performance at Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest, Vicki Siegel said.

    “The kids were crying and scared. And so I don't know what kind of damage was done inside the building but we all got out,” she said. “They probably all have PTSD now.”

    In rural Inyokern, about 10 miles from Ridgecrest, 72-year-old Virginia Henry was reading in her bedroom when it began. She lost power in her home, but was able to drive to Ridgecrest to check on her toy and game store.

    "Everything is fine. A lot of businesses are open," Henry said.

    In L.A., residents said the quake had a rolling quality that lasted for more than a minute — long enough for many to pull out cellphones and document swinging chandeliers and sloshing swimming pools.

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    Cynthia Alvarez, who was at work at a hotel in El Segundo when the quake happened, said the swaying made her dizzy.

    “It wouldn’t stop. It just kept feeling like you were in a boat,” Alvarez said.

    By late afternoon . more than 87 aftershocks had been recorded, including three that registered above magnitude 4.5.

    Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones, California’s foremost earthquake expert, said that aftershocks will continue to rumble through Kern County, and there is a small chance that the quake was a “foreshock” of an even greater temblor to come.

    “There is about a 1-in-20 chance that this location will be having an even bigger earthquake in the next few days, and that we have not yet seen the biggest earthquake of the sequence,” she said. “We should always be preparing for the big one.”

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    The U.S. Geological Survey is dispatching geologists to Kern County to look for a surface rupture and gather other data.

    The area that ruptured is in an area of faults slightly east of the Sierra Nevada. The Little Lake fault is one of them, and last went through a magnitude 6 earthquake in 1984, Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson said.

    The earthquake was centered roughly 80 miles northeast of a stretch of the 106-year-old Los Angeles Aqueduct spanning the San Andreas fault.

    “Aqueduct personnel have been deployed as part of our standard earthquake response protocols to inspect the aqueduct and reservoirs,” said Joe Ramallo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “In the city, critical facilities are also being checked.

    “There is no information nor reports of damage at this time,” he said.

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    Ivan Amerson, 35, was eating lunch with his family in the isolated town of Trona when the quake hit.

    “It was kind of an odd earthquake because you could hear it coming,” he said.

    Afterward, the town became a chaotic scene, Amerson said. There was no power, a chemical plant that operates in town shut its doors abruptly and citizens, including Amerson, began packing up to leave.

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    He said he was headed to his father’s house in Costa Mesa.

    “We're going to the beach,” he said. “It’s a good time not to be inland.”

    Times staff writers Joseph Serna, Irfan Khan, Anita Chabria, Alex Wigglesworth, Louis Sahagun, Alexa Diaz, David Montero, Mary Bernard, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Dakota Smith, Marques Harper, Phil Willon, Julia Wick, Robin Rauzi, Julissa James, Seema Mehta, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Jeanette Marantos and Emily Baumgaertner contributed to this report.


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