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Earthquake Aftershocks Reassure Scientists

RESEARCHERS say the thousands of aftershocks that have rumbled beneath Los Angeles since the earthquake struck should bring reassurance, not panic.

``If we didn't have them, we'd be wondering where was all that energy going,'' seismologist Lucy Jones said Jan. 24 at the California Institute of Technology, where more than 2,500 aftershocks have been recorded since the 6.6-magnitude quake on Jan. 17.

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The largest aftershock, the same day, measured 5.6 on the Richter scale. The second-largest registered 5.0. By the night of Jan. 17, there had been 35 aftershocks ranging between 4.0 and 4.9, and 272 between 3.0 and 3.9.

Earthquake geologist Jim Dolan, of the United States Geological Survey, said aftershocks of 4 and even a few 5s can be expected in the next year.

``We've moved huge blocks of rock to a different location, and it's got to settle back down into that new site. And you get the aftershocks,'' Ms. Jones said, ``but they're behaving normally, and there's nothing unusual about them at all.''

Rain complicates relief effort

Rain during the night of Jan. 24 made life even more difficult for thousands of people living in National Guard tent cities. The tents, capable of holding about 20 people, are not waterproof, and occasional leaks are causing discomfort. Stores ran out of plastic sheeting to cover holes knocked out in homes by the tremor, which destroyed more than 11,000 housing units, leaving 25,000 people homeless.

``What's happening to California?'' said Juan Galvez, staying in one of six tent cities in the hard-hit San Fernando Valley. ``It's too much now. The earthquake, the riots, the fires, and now the rain.''

Steady rain was expected throughout the region into the morning of Jan. 25, with as much as half an inch forecast for the San Fernando Valley. Heavy rain also fell near Malibu, where hills and canyons ravaged by wildfires last fall were susceptible to mudslides. Sandbags and plastic sheeting were handed out at parks and fire stations. ``We're talking about a couple of different disasters right now,'' said Mike Wofford, a National Weather Service forecaster. ``Obviously, there could be some serious problems with either one.''

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The rain knocked out electricity to about 6,400 customers, mostly in the San Fernando Valley. A Department of Water and Power spokeswoman said emergency repairs after the quake left the area vulnerable to intermittent outages.

Nine-mile-long parking lot

The downpour also compounded the delays for evening commuters crawling north on Interstate 5. While the Jan. 24 morning rush went more smoothly than expected, that was apparently due in part to staggered starting times. At the end of the day, however, thousands of people headed for home at the same time. I-5 turned into a nine-mile-long parking lot.

Quake victims braced for more of the same on the roads: All but 65,000 of the Los Angeles school district's 640,000 students were due back in classes Jan. 25, meaning more traffic on and around the damaged freeways. About 76 of the city's approximately 800 schools were damaged, affecting about 10 percent of the district's pupils.

Los Angeles's buckled freeways are expected to take as much as a year to repair. There were signs, however, that drivers were turning to public transportation. In hard-hit Santa Clarita, commuter-train ridership rose to 20,000 per day from 1,000 before the quake. Other people car pooled.

In other developments:

* Gov. Pete Wilson (R) asked the federal government for $28 million to create temporary jobs for people left jobless by the quake. He wants to use the money to put people to work cleaning up and rebuilding roads and buildings.

* The Red Cross began shifting its focus to disaster recovery, announcing the opening Jan. 25 of service centers to help victims with housing, food, clothing, and other needs.

The quake killed 57 people and injured more than 8,300. Losses have been estimated at more than $30 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in United States history.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said about 40,000 people have applied for some form of financial aid.

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