LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Southern California on Friday, triggering fires, buckling part of a highway, damaging buildings but causing few reported injuries despite striking with eight times more force than the initial quake in the same area a day earlier.
The quake struck at about 8:20 p.m. (0320 GMT) near the town of Ridgecrest south of Death Valley National Park, about 125 miles (202 km) northeast of Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
It was followed by at least 16 aftershocks of magnitude 4 or above, the USGS said, which also warned of a 50 percent or better chance of another magnitude 6 quake in the days ahead.
"We’ve got fires, we've got gas leaks, we've got injuries, we've got people without power," Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said by telephone. "We’re dealing with it as best we can."
Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said so far only minor injuries had been reported.
Friday's quake was the most powerful to hit Southern California since another 7.1 temblor struck the Mojave Desert near the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base in 1999, said Lucy Jones, a seismologist for the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).
California Governor Gavin Newsom has requested federal assistance and has put the Office of Emergency Services (OES) on highest alert.
"Getting resources into the area continues to be a challenge," OES chief Mark Ghilarducci told a news briefing, noting the quake hit as darkness fell. "We know as day breaks we'll get a better assessment of the damage."
Ridgecrest was dealing with a significant number of fires, mostly caused by ruptured gas lines, Ghilarducci said. There were reports that a building had collapsed in the small town of Trona, he said.
A rockslide closed State Road 178 in Kern County and video posted a twitter showed a stretch of road had buckled.
Luke Smith, owner of Furys Sports Bar in Ridgecrest, said in a phone interview that Friday's quake shook tiles from the interior ceiling, slightly damaging his bar and knocking down some bottles. Three customers were in the bar at the time but no one was injured, he said.
SWARM OF AFTERSHOCKS
A swarm of aftershocks have jolted the high desert region of Southern California since a 6.4 quake on Thursday morning near Ridgecrest. Jones said that quake turned out to be a foreshock to Friday's 7.1 tremor. Only a few injuries were reported in Thursday's quake but two houses caught fire from broken gas pipes, officials said.
The Los Angeles Metrolink commuter rail service said on Twitter it had halted service in the city of 4 million people in the immediate aftermath of the latest quake.
The last major destructive temblor to strike Southern California was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994, which was centred in a highly populated area of Los Angeles. It killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage.
Initial damage reports were much lighter from Friday's quake, which unleashed greater force than the Northridge event but was much less consequential because it was centred in a remote, sparsely populated area of the high desert.
The quake, however, was felt over a wide region, with shaking reported as far south as San Diego, as far north as San Francisco and Reno, Nevada, and as far east as Phoenix, according to crowd-sourced data collected by the USGS.
Outside an immediate radius of 50 or 60 miles from the epicentre, though, most of the shaking was reported as relatively light.
The quake rumbled the ground across the greater Los Angeles area, with shaking there that lasted about 40 seconds.
Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly and TV cameras at major league baseball's Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
A local CBS anchorwoman ducked under her desk in midst of a newscast as shouts of "get under a desk" were heard in the background when Friday's quake was felt throughout Los Angeles.
The quake forced the National Basketball Association (NBA) to cancel the finish of a two Summer League games in Las Vegas while engineers checked to see if the temblor compromised the integrity of an arena on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
"Guys didn’t know what was going on," Christian Wood, a Summer League player on the New Orleans Clippers, was quoted as saying on the NBA's website. "Some guys were still playing on the court."
(Reporting by Bill Tarrant, Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Tait and Toby Chopra)
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