WASHINGTON - California dodged the "big one"- this time. The Golden State was hit with a 5.4 magnitude earthquake Tuesday. But when a strong quake does strike California, it will be a major disaster.
Five Minutes of Chaos
The quake caught everyone by surprise, sending people in downtown la running into the streets.
"When it hit it shook and then the building just swayed and swayed and it continued for I guess a little over 5 minutes," said one California resident.
Another resident said, "It felt like the house was literally going to fall on my face just completely cave in it was moving from left to right it felt like it was never going to end."
The earthquake centered about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles in Chino Hills, and was felt from San Diego to as far east as Las Vegas.
Dozens of aftershocks followed but all in all - relatively speaking - little harm was done.
The quake caused minor damage, rupturing water mains, knocking items off store shelves and interrupting a vote of the la city council.
Residents and public officials are even more grateful there were no fatalities.
"This earthquake reminds us yet once again that in California we have to be prepared for anything and everything," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
The quake measured only a fraction of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which was 10 times as violent.
"This is only a moderate quake most people would even call it a small one. It's not what the big one is supposed to be like," U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Kate Hutton said.
Just this year, government scientists predicted a 99 percent chance that California will experience a magnitude 6.7 quake or larger in the next 30 years.
Such a quake is expected to cause injuries and widespread destruction similar to the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
The scenario also includes crowded hospitals with 50,000 injured and 1,800 dead as well as firefighters trying to contend with 1,600 fires burning at once - all likely costing $200 billion in damages.
Consider Tuesday's Quake a Trial Run
Experts say Californians should view Tuesday's tremor as a drill for the future.
Hutton warned, "Any earthquake is a reminder to us - we live in earthquake country and we need to be prepared."