The quake jiggled the greater Los Angeles region for about 10 to 15 seconds and was felt as far south as San Diego, said USGS seismologist Susan Hough.
"This was a serious jolt. It was probably felt within 100 miles," Hough said.
The shaking was most intense in the coastal communities south of LAX. Some residents said books and other items were knocked off the shelves. Television images showed a Long Beach drapery business that had its storefront window knocked out.
"It was pretty strong," owner John Sousa told KABC-TV as he stood on the sidewalk outside Blue Ribbon Drapery. Sousa said he's owned the store for about 35 years and the windows were likely just as old.
"It's a little strange, but I expected it was going to happen sometime," he said.
Tiles fell from a movie theater ceiling at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach and firefighters were called to repair a damaged light pole in Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times said. No injuries were reported in either incident.
There were no reports of any damage at LAX, and people who live north of downtown Los Angeles either felt a light shake or nothing at all.
The Los Angeles Fire Department received plenty of calls, but none to report any major injuries, said spokesman Brian Humphrey.
Tom Oswalt, 46, said he was packing clothes for a business trip at his home in Long Beach when the shaking started.
"First thing I thought was 'Is this the big one?' It was pretty powerful," he said. "My first thought was to get out of the building, get my dog and get out of the building. Now we're just waiting for aftershocks."
Hough said there will likely be more aftershocks, but only a 5 percent chance of a larger quake.
"People should be on their toes," she said.
Seismologists had pegged the quake initially at a magnitude-4.7, then revised it to a magnitude-5.0, but updated it about an hour after the temblor struck back to 4.7.
The last damaging earthquake in Southern California was the 1994 magnitude-6.7 Northridge quake that toppled bridges and buildings.
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