QUAKE CHAT -- Faster than a 9600-baud modem, the global computer network buzzed into action after the ground stopped shaking yesterday in Southern California. And the system held up, even though the quake knocked out at least one main link.

Within 20 minutes of the predawn earthquake, electronic messages flew on the Internet as computer users in the quake area described the destruction and people elsewhere asked about the fate of loved ones.


In an electronic version of a ham radio network, some computer users in various parts of the country offered to relay messages to people in their areas from relatives and friends who couldn't make long-distance phone calls from the quake zone.

Computer users with Internet access can connect to the International Relay Chat by logging on to the network and typing "IRC" and then "earthquake" or "quakechat" (without the quotation marks).


The address for the earthquake news group is "alt.currentevents.laquake" (again, without the quotation marks).

INSURANCE -- Many victims of the Southern California earthquake may face staggering repair bills since they lack insurance that will pay for fixing their homes.

People will be able to claim fire damage under standard homeowner policies, insurance experts said. But many residents will not be covered if their homes collapsed or had other structural damage due to the quake.

Even those who bought special earthquake insurance may face steep bills, because such policies typically require customers to cover 5 percent to 10 percent of the damage themselves. About 25 percent of all California homeowners have earthquake coverage, which adds an average of $150 to $300 annually on top of a regular policy, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

ESCALATING QUAKES? Californians may feel like they are getting hit with more and more earthquakes, but geophysicists said yesterday the West Coast activity is normal and that the only expansion is in recording technology.

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed a concern shared by many of her constituents that she feared the number of quakes is on the rise.

"What I've noticed in the past 10 or 15 years is a pickup in earthquake activity," she told CNN.

But Russ Needham, a geophysicist with the Golden, Colo.-based National Earthquake Information Center, part of the U.S.


Geological Survey, said there was nothing unusual about the occurrence or strength of yesterday's quake. He explained that quakes that register between 6.0 and 6.9 on the Richter scale are considered strong but that they have to register higher than 7.0 to be considered major and over 8.0 to be great.

"We do not have any more occurrences of earthquakes of 6, 7 or 8 than we've had in the past," Mr. Needham said. "We may be reporting more earthquakes, but its because of better


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA -- A mild earthquake shook the area north of San Francisco Bay yesterday but apparently wasn't linked to the severe quake that rocked Southern California, an official said.

There were no reports of injury or damage.

The Northern California tremor measured 3.5 on the Richter scale and was centered on the Green Valley fault north of Napa, said Pat Jorgenson, spokeswoman for the United States Geological Survey. Napa is about 40 miles north of San Francisco.


CIVILITY -- Ventura Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through the devastated San Fernando Valley, was a ghostly place yesterday, its shops a shambles, its sidewalks littered with broken glass, its traffic signals out and its automatic teller machines useless.

Behind a shuttered Thrifty drugstore in the Studio City section, where the aisles were clogged with fallen ceiling tiles, a tangle of toys and broken cosmetic bottles, employees peddled batteries and flashlights to a stunned throng of men and women still shaking from the jolt of a lifetime, which occurred before dawn.