Travel throughout the Southland was hampered Thursday after earthquake damage to the interchange of the Santa Ana and San Gabriel River freeways created a major traffic snarl, slides closed roads in the San Gabriel Mountains, buckled pavement closed the Pomona Freeway near Pomona, and control tower damage delayed flights at Burbank Airport.
In Malibu, rocks showered down on rush-hour traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway near Big Rock Drive, but motorists kept their cool and no accidents were reported, the California Highway Patrol said.
Orange County commuters have been urged to take alternate routes into Los Angeles to avoid expected congestion on surface streets in the area of the I-605 and I-5 interchange, which is expected to remain closed at least through late today.
Bewildered and frightened motorists Thursday morning stopped their cars along the roadside and in traffic lanes on Orange County freeways to figure out what was causing their bumpy rides or to avoid potentially threatening overpasses. However, the CHP reported no major earthquake-related accidents or disturbances.
Amtrak and freight train operators reported delays in arrivals and departures of two or more hours while crews surveyed their tracks, but no damage was found.
A huge traffic tie-up gridlocked much of Downey and Santa Fe Springs after officials closed more than 15 miles of the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) between the Artesia (California 91) and Long Beach (I-710) freeways, and more than 10 miles of the 605 Freeway between the Artesia and the Pomona (California 60) because of damage to the 605 Freeway overpass.
"We have got major, major gridlock on the streets near the 605 and I-5 intersection in Downey and Santa Fe Springs, and we are asking people to stay out of those areas," said CHP Officer Howard Powell.
The quake shook large chunks of concrete loose from the overpass, which passes over the Santa Ana Freeway, and Caltrans reported finding significant structural damage. Engineers feared that an aftershock "could cause the structure to collapse," a Caltrans spokesman said.
Doug Finch, an overpass maintenance worker, said the fallen concrete left gaps in support columns up to two feet wide and exposed steel reinforcing bars.
Caltrans said the closure would be in effect for 24 to 72 hours while engineers install temporary supports beneath the Interstate 605 overpass. Officials said about 350,000 vehicles pass through the busy interchange every day.
Throughout the area, traffic backed up on major arterials as crews attempted to reroute thousands of motorists.
Jim Fine, manager of California Towing, said two of his tow truck drivers were on Orange County freeways when the quake hit at 7:42 a.m.
"People were stopping, getting out of their cars, looking, trying to see what was going on," Fine said.
Identical incidents were reported by tow truck drivers on the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway near Katella Avenue and the westbound California 91 approaching the Interstate 605, Fine said.
"Everybody was heading to work when it hit," he said. "They were just stopping in the middle of the freeway. You couldn't very well get run over. Everybody else was stopping."
"Another (tow truck) driver on city streets said it felt like his motor mounts had broken," Fine said. "It bounced him pretty good. . . . It was bouncing people all around."
Gail Martin of Lakewood, an employee of PacifiCare in Cypress, was on her way to work at the time. "I was coming down Studebaker Road and was turning a corner, and the car started rattling," she said. "And then I looked out and saw the street lamps right behind me swaying, and then the lamp came crashing down behind me. I think I was in shock all the way to work. I don't know why I didn't turn around and go back home."
Charlene Enzi of Whittier, also with PacifiCare, said she thought at first that she had a flat tire.
"The whole car felt like it wasn't in balance," Enzi said. "I thought I was going to lose control. It was so off balance, it was almost like it was floating."
'Lady Very Shaken Up' Janeen Hauxhurst, an advertising account executive, said she was waiting at a street light at Pacific Coast Highway and 7th Street in Long Beach on her way to work in Orange County when radio station "KFWB turned into static, then my car started bouncing sideways. I thought some idiot was bouncing up and down on my trunk."
To her astonishment, other cars at the stop light also were bouncing. "One lady was very shaken up, put on her red blinker and pulled over, but the rest of the traffic got on the freeway," Hauxhurst said.
As Hauxhurst's car approached the Garden Grove Freeway overpass on the San Diego Freeway, a radio newscaster cautioned motorists to avoid bridges, she said. At that moment, Hauxhurst said, she saw "motorists on the 405 Freeway stopping and refusing to go under" the overpass.
CHP spokesman Paul Caldwell said reports of "a few possible cracks or gaps on bridges" in Orange County were quickly checked out and found to be baseless.