Los Angeles and Ventura county residents got a jarring wake-up call Wednesday morning when the largest aftershock to the Northridge earthquake in two months rattled the area.
Although the short 4.5-magnitude shaker was only powerful enough to break a few dishes and rattle some nerves, for many it was a grim reminder of the destructive pre-dawn Jan. 17 earthquake.
"I was like, 'Here we go again,' " said Shawn Rucker, 24, of San Fernando. At his house, picture frames and plants fell and several glasses broke in the kitchen.
"It was like a train going through my house," he said. "I expected it to go on like the Jan. 17 earthquake, then it just stopped."
The 5:56 a.m. temblor, which shook for as long as 15 seconds in parts of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, was centered three miles northeast of San Fernando. It was felt throughout the area and as far north as Camarillo in Ventura County. Caltech seismologists said it also was felt on Santa Catalina Island.
Through the day, smaller aftershocks struck the same area.
"Probably the more emotional people were just starting to relax," said Kate Hutton at Caltech. "This was a pretty good feeler. It's the nature of nature, and we can't do much about it."
As jarring as the aftershock was, scientists said it was not only normal, but overdue.
Lucile M. Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, said a computer analysis predicted that the area would get four aftershocks of at least magnitude 4 between March 20--the date of the last significant aftershock--and Wednesday's temblor. Instead, there has been only this one, and it was a relatively minor one at that.
"This was a little less than would have been expected," Jones said. "It is not very typical at all."
Residents a few miles from the epicenter were shaken particularly hard. At the Tahitian Mobile Home Park in Sylmar, where 64 trailers burned after the Northridge quake, the jolt renewed fears.
"I was thinking that if it went on any longer, I would throw my body over my sons, and then it stopped," said Susan Rezvani, 37, standing with her two boys, Neema, 12, and Naveed, 4, outside a friend's trailer.
Otto Hofmann, 60, has lived in a motor home outside his Sylmar house since it was red-tagged after the Northridge quake. During Wednesday's temblor, he said, the trailer bounced up and down like a ball.
"I thought the epicenter was here," Hofmann said. "Everybody started yelling and screaming, 'My God, not again!' " The only casualty in his makeshift home was a fax machine that fell from a shelf.
In other areas, the damage also was minor. Cracks in the walls of homes not yet repaired from the January quake widened, chandeliers swung, dishes broke and frightened children hopped in bed with parents who could not get back to sleep.
There were no reported electricity, water or phone service disruptions, and no freeway closures, officials said.
Of the 8,000 aftershocks since the Jan. 17 quake, about 400 have been felt. Seven aftershocks were between magnitude 5.0 and 6.0; about 40 were between 4.0 and 5.0. More than 300 were between 3.0 and 4.0.
The March 20 aftershock, which was magnitude 5.3 and centered near Panorama City, sparked two fires in the San Fernando Valley, but caused no injuries.
Times staff writer Kenneth Reich contributed to this story.