By Nathan Frandino and Steve Gorman
RIO DELL, Calif. (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake shook California’s far northern coast before dawn on Tuesday, collapsing homes and streets, cutting power lines and leaving thousands of residents without running water and electricity.
At least a dozen people were injured and two more died from “medical emergencies” that occurred during or shortly after the earthquake, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
The quake, which struck at 2:30 am PST and was followed by approximately 80 aftershocks, was centered 215 miles (350 km) north of San Francisco off Humboldt County, an area largely rural known for its redwood forests, local seafood, lumber industry and dairies.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Humboldt County on Tuesday to support the emergency response to the earthquake.
Newsom has directed state agencies and departments to take the appropriate actions necessary to provide support to local communities, according to a statement.
The region is also known for relatively frequent seismic activity, although the latest earthquake seems to have caused more disruption than others in recent years.
Tuesday’s earthquake caused a fire at a facility, severed the gas line to a water heater, and caused at least two other buildings to collapse, authorities said. The fire was quickly put out and fire crews rescued a resident briefly trapped in the home, according to firefighters.
About two dozen homes were so badly damaged that they were “red-tagged,” declared unsafe for habitation. Most were in Rio Dell, a city of about 3,400 that bore the brunt of the earthquake.
Water service to the entire community has been disrupted and City Manager Kyle Knopp said he expected between 100 and 150 residents would likely be displaced once housing inspectors assess all of the structural damage there.
About 79,000 homes and businesses across the county were without power in the immediate aftermath of the quake, according to power grid monitoring website PowerOutage.us.
‘THINGS WERE CRASHING’
Jacqui McIntosh, 28, whose Rio Dell home was shaken to its foundations, said she and her husband, Shane, were thrown out of bed and curled up under it until the shaking stopped.
“And then, as we were running out of the house… you could smell gas everywhere,” she said. “Our water was dumped, so there’s water everywhere. I just remember walking out of the house and seeing, like, a house basically on the ground, next to our porch.”
Rio Dell resident Liz Peavy, 68, said she, too, was awakened from sleep when her house began rumbling.
“And he kept shaking and shaking, and things were crashing,” she recalled. “The TV was going off, the microwave, everything, like all my little knick-knacks were crashing everywhere.”
Firefighters said dispatchers responded to about 70 emergency calls after the quake.
The details of the victims were inaccurate. The two fatalities involved people, one age 72, the other 83, who suffered medical emergencies that coincided with the quake, preventing rescue teams from reaching them in time to provide life-saving treatment, the county sheriff said. by Humboldt William Honsal.
Most of the 12 survivors known to have sought medical attention went to the hospital and sustained relatively minor injuries, many from fallen objects. Two of the most serious cases were a head injury and a broken hip, officials said.
Police closed a bridge over the River Eel just outside Ferndale, a picturesque town known for its gingerbread-style shopfronts and Victorian houses, after four large cracks were discovered in the span. The California Highway Patrol also said the roadway foundation was in danger of slipping.
Authorities said at least four Humboldt County roads were closed due to earthquake damage.
“The shaking was really intense,” said Daniel Holsapple, 33, a resident of nearby Arcata, who said he grabbed his pet cat and ran outside after being woken up in the pitch dark by the movement of the house and by an emergency alarm on his cell phone.
“You couldn’t see what was going on. It was just the feel and that general low sound of the whole house’s foundation vibrating,” she said.
California’s earthquake early warning system sent electronic alerts to the mobile devices of about 3 million Northern California residents 10 seconds before the first tremor was felt, said state emergency chief Mark Ghilarducci.
While earthquakes are routine in California, magnitude 6.4 quakes are less common and potentially dangerous.
Tuesday’s quake struck a seismically active area where several tectonic plates converge on the seabed about 2 miles offshore, an area that has produced about 40 earthquakes in the 6.0 to 7.0 range over the past century, Cynthia said Pridmore, senior geologist for the California Geological Survey.
“It’s not unusual to have earthquakes of this size in this region,” he said at a news conference.
The aftershock of Tuesday’s earthquake was felt as far away as the San Francisco Bay area, the US Geological Survey reported. The largest aftershock recorded a magnitude of 4.6.
(Reporting by Nathan Frandino in Rio Dell, California; Additional Writing and Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Calsbad, California, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Laila Kearney in New York City and Rhea Binoy and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Christopher Cushing)