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5.3 Aftershock Rattles Southland : Temblor: Frightened people flee stores and movie theaters and two fires are started. But there is little other damage from third-largest jolt since the Jan. 17 Northridge quake.

March 21, 1994|JEFFREY L. RABIN and CHIP JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A powerful aftershock to the Northridge earthquake rolled across Southern California on Sunday, igniting two fires, disrupting power to thousands of San Fernando Valley residents and sending people fleeing from malls and movie theaters, but inflicting little physical damage.

The 5.3-magnitude quake, centered near Panorama City, was felt over a wide area of Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties when it hit at 1:20 p.m. It was the third strongest of more than 6,000 aftershocks that have struck the region since the Jan. 17 quake that killed at least 61 people and caused at least $13 billion in structural damage.

It was the seventh aftershock greater than magnitude 5.0, and it served to keep quake-jittery Angelenos on edge for yet another day.

Freeways sustained some "cosmetic cracking," but no major damage, a state transit official said.

For fans camped outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for tonight's Oscar ceremonies, the shaker gave them a second authentic L. A. experience--but did not move them from their cherished places. Rhea Sprecher, an art teacher from Wisconsin, still managed to spot Debbie Allen, Goldie Hawn and others. "I felt some rumbling under my feet and I said: 'Would that be an earthquake?' "

Inside, chandeliers swayed, seats rocked and huge pieces of scenery rattled. "Everybody, stay in your seats!" Oscar director Jeff Margolis ordered over the public address system.

Los Angeles city Fire Department officials said two fires were started by the earthquake. A mini-mall blaze in Van Nuys began because of electrical damage caused by the quake, and a transformer at a Department of Water and Power plant near Burbank Airport caught fire after earthquake damage caused oil in the unit to overheat.

Fire destroyed the Woodley Plaza shopping center in Van Nuys, burning a mini-market, video store and a restaurant, said Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells said.

But elsewhere, there was little damage.

In Malibu, a minor rockslide failed to disrupt traffic. And in Santa Monica, life in the bustling Third Street Promenade shopping and dining area was back to normal shortly after the temblor stopped.

"Seismically, this is a very expected behavior. Probably the big news story in this earthquake is people's nerves," said Caltech seismologist Kate Hutton.

In the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere, hundreds of people were evacuated from malls and theaters as a precaution.

About 1,000 people were removed from IKEA, a home furnishings store in Burbank. Despite shoppers' anxiety, the evacuation was quick and orderly, said Dennis Rodriguez, the store's operations manager.

"People were a little frightened. We got workers together with customers and guided them downstairs," Rodriguez said. Some children were separated from parents but were reunited outside the building, he said.

Another 500 shoppers were evacuated from the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square mall, where the aftershock shattered plate glass alongside an escalator and sent some overhead spotlights crashing to the floor. No one was injured at the mall, where the first 34 of the complex's 140 stores closed since the Jan. 17 quake reopened only Saturday, employees said.

"We had the rain yesterday, and another aftershock today," said Bob Smith, a mall employee. "It's been a tough weekend."

The quake also rocked the Glendale Galleria shopping center.

"It shook us pretty hard," said Drew Boghorsyan of the mall's customer services department. "We heard the building just rumble. It was really scary."

Boghorsyan said 26 of the 248 stores in the mall closed after the quake because merchants wanted to go home. He said he knew of no damage to the stores that closed.

A Sherman Oaks house, moved off its foundation by the Jan. 17 quake and scheduled for demolition today, was sent sliding another 20 feet down the hillside, imperiling other houses below.

At Valley movie theaters, moviegoers fled their seats as they were showered with broken plaster and other debris.

"There were some big tiles that fell down," said John Corcoran, who was at the Fallbrook Mall theater in Canoga Park. The jolt also shook up construction workers still repairing damage from the January temblor.

James Booth of Burbank was on a bucket lift filling cracks on the second floor of the Cal State Northridge science building when the shaking hit.

"I thought it was this jackass shaking the bottom of the lift," Booth said, pointing to a co-worker. Then, he added, "I thought the entire building was going to come down."

At the Northridge Fashion Center, badly damaged in the January quake, 23 employees from a wrecking firm also were startled by the aftershock.

"We were in the center of the mall when it hit," said Al Flores, a supervisor for Cleveland Wrecking Co. "It was a lot of bumping up and down. We just got all our people together, made sure everyone was all right, and got out of there."

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