Southern California appeared to have avoided the worst on Saturday after it was rocked by a second powerful earthquake in as many days -- a 7.1 magnitude tremor that revived fears of the so-called Big One the region has feared for decades.
No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported from this second quake, the largest in Southern California in more than two decades. It hit Friday night in a remote and sparsely populated area around 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles, where it was also felt.
But the earth's mighty twitch shook buildings, damaged roads and rattled people still jittery from a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in the same region on Thursday.
"We've never seen anything like this, this is the biggest and most impactful quake that I've ever experienced," said Victor Abdullatif, owner of a small supermarket in the Mojave desert town of Ridgecrest where the quake left wine bottles and other merchandise smashed on the floor in huge piles.
Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, a remote testing ground for military hardware, wrote on Facebook that due to the quake it was "not mission capable until further notice."
An official at China Lake had told AFP after Thursday's temblor that there was "substantial damage" to their facilities, including fires, water leaks and spills of hazardous materials.
As the second big quake hit on Friday, two news presenters live on Los Angeles TV station KCBS looked distraught and gazed up repeatedly to see if anything was falling.
"We are experiencing very strong shaking. I think we need to get under the desk," one presenter said, then did just that as the station cut to a commercial.
Hardest-hit was the town of Trona east of Ridgecrest, where between 20 and 50 buildings were damaged and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had to truck in bottles of water as water lines had been cut, county supervisor Robert Lovingood said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Twitter that he had requested federal assistance for communities hit by the quake, and on Saturday flew to the area to inspect the damage.
However there were already signs of recovery as both Trona and Ridgecrest saw electricity restored Saturday and the state highway connecting the towns was opened after "emergency temporary repairs" to earthquake-caused cracks, the California Department of Transportation said on Twitter.
Fears of the 'Big One'
The latest quake was 11 times stronger than the 6.4-magnitude "foreshock" the previous day, according to the United States Geological Survey.
The two major quakes, along with multiple aftershocks, have revived fears of the "Big One" -- a powerful tremor along the San Andreas Fault that could devastate major cities in California.
"This is an earthquake sequence. These earthquakes are related," said Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones.
There was a 10 per cent chance of Friday's quake being followed by another magnitude 7.0 or higher quake in the next week, she added.
Abdullatif, the shop owner, said he is holding off on cleaning up from the quake because of the warnings there could be yet more seismic activity.
"The anxiety is definitely very high," he said. "It's definitely a scary time."
Terri Brantley, who lives in a mobile home in Ridgecrest, said the quake's fury was stunning. He and his wife were in bed when it hit but they managed to get out.
"It literally picked up the house in the air, and threw it to the west about three feet," he told AFP.
"I've experienced other quakes before, many times, but nothing like this. This was absolutely terrifying," Brantley said.
Numerous gas leaks were reported near the epicenter, including in Trona and nearby Argus, but no fires were attributed to the earthquake, the San Bernardino fire department tweeted.
There were no reports of serious damage in Los Angeles, mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Numerous visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim said on Twitter that rides were temporarily shut for safety inspections.
Patrons at movie theaters in the Los Angeles area evacuated due to the quake.
"Everyone remained calm as the theater began to shake and then the shaking got stronger. We all headed to exits and down the stairs. No panic but one woman sobbing. This one was scary," wrote NBC journalist Lester Holt on Twitter.
In Las Vegas, 150 miles east of the quake, an NBA summer league game was postponed when the tremor hit, causing the scoreboard and several overhead speakers to sway.
The earthquake was the largest in California since 1992, when a 7.2-magnitude quake struck Cape Mendocino on a remote stretch of the state's northern coast.