LOS ANGELES — Southern Californians were jolted from their sleep before dawn Tuesday as a small but strongly felt earthquake struck beneath Los Angeles' eastern suburbs.
No damage or injuries were reported, however, and jangled nerves appeared to be the biggest impact of the magnitude-4.4 temblor, which struck at 4:04 a.m.
"It was a rude awakening," said Amber Szabo, manager of the skin care store Lather in Pasadena.
The quake was centered 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, 12 miles under the city of Pico Rivera.
In 1987, a fault in that area produced the magnitude-5.9 Whittier Narrows quake that killed eight people and caused more than $350 million in damage. But Tuesday's quake was likely not an aftershock because too much time has elapsed, said seismologist Kate Hutton at the California Institute of Technology.
Szabo said she and her husband ran out of their home "like crazy people."
But others, like Vincenzo Moschella, said it happened too fast for his family to duck under their dining room table as planned.
Moschella, 49, of Pasadena, said he was awakened by a "big, massive jolt."
"It took a few seconds to realize it was an earthquake," he said.
Moschella said he and his wife went to comfort his 3-year-old daughter, who began crying, and their 5-year-old son, and then had a breakfast of waffles because they couldn't get back to sleep.
The quake was felt south to San Diego County, north and east to the deserts and west along the coast through Malibu and into neighboring Ventura County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's "community Internet intensity" mapping system of more than 13,000 citizen reports.
California has not had a major damaging earthquake since 1994, when the magnitude-6.7 Northridge quake struck greater Los Angeles, killing dozens, injuring thousands and causing $25 billion in damage.
Veterans of Northridge were able to quickly tell the difference between that quake and Tuesday's jolt.
"It was big but I didn't get up. I thought I was dreaming," said Tracy Lynch of Highland Park.
"This was a baby" compared to Northridge, Moschella said.
Seismic safety experts, however, said such quakes remind people of the need to prepare in advance by storing water, food and other supplies and to plan how family members will locate each other in a disaster.
"Anytime there's an earthquake, take it as an earthquake drill for the Big One," said Caltech's Hutton.
Last fall, well before the recent destructive earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Turkey, millions of Californians participated in a drill centered on the basic idea that the best thing to do in a quake is to quickly get under a table or desk.
Scientists also frequently warn that California's mighty San Andreas Fault is long overdue for a major quake.
"We're going to have ours, it's coming," said Lynch. "Let's pray for the best."
Hutton said the chance that the early morning tremor was a foreshock to a larger quake was initially 5 percent but would rapidly decline to 1 percent after 24 hours. The quake was slightly unusual because hours later there still had been no aftershocks.
Hutton did not see cause for alarm.
"If it was a big earthquake and there were no aftershocks, then we might be a little concerned about it," she said.
On the Net:
Caltech shake movie: http://shakemovie.caltech.edu