FERNDALE -- Two elderly residents died, 12 others injured and businesses and homes were damaged when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake followed by nearly 80 aftershocks rocked the Humboldt County coastline Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the initial temblor struck at 2:34 a.m. and was followed in rapid-fire succession by dozens of aftershocks quakes measuring 4.6 to 2.5. Tens of thousands were left without power following the initial quake.
Damage to buildings and infrastructure was still being assessed Tuesday afternoon. Two Humboldt County hospitals lost power and were running on generators, but the scale of the damage appeared to be minimal compared to the strength of the quake, according to Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for Humboldt County on Tuesday evening. The proclamation gives Humboldt County easier access to resources under the California Disaster Assistance Act and directs Caltrans to formally request immediate assistance through the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Relief Program.
"Jennifer and I send our heartfelt condolences to the families grieving the loss of loved ones and offer our best wishes for the recovery of those who were injured in this earthquake," Newsom said in an earlier statement. "California stands with the people of Humboldt County and the state has moved quickly to support the emergency response underway with local and tribal partners. I thank all of the women and men who have mobilized to protect public safety and support the community at this challenging time."
He additionally directed state agencies and departments to take appropriate action as necessary to provide support to local communities, including the California Department of Transportation to ensure the safety of roadways, the California Highway Patrol to protect public safety, the California Department of Public Health and Emergency Medical Services Authority to assist local hospitals, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to help address any possible additional emergencies and continued earthquake monitoring by the California Geological Survey.
As of around 7:40 p.m., PG&E had restored power to approximately 40,000 customers or roughly half the number who were without electricity after the quake initially hit. There were estimates that 70% of customers in the region lost power after the quake.
However, there were still tens of thousands of homes and businesses along the Northern California coast without power Tuesday evening . The utility said it expected electricity to be fully restored within 24 hours. PG&E crews were also busy through the earlier part of the day addressing a number of gas leaks caused by the quake.
Humboldt County officials confirmed the human toll on Tuesday afternoon.
"Approximately 11 individuals have been reported as injured," said a post on the county website. "Additionally, two individuals have died as a result of medical emergencies occurring during and/or just following the earthquake."
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office said at an afternoon news conference -briefly interrupted by a jarring aftershock -- that the two people who died were 83 years old and 72 years old, respectively, and passed away because they couldn't get timely care for "medical emergencies" during or just after the quake.
State officials said the injuries -- raised to 12 from 11 -- ranged from minor to moderate mostly from falling objects in homes and businesses.
Mark Ghilarducci, Director of California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said there was at least one structure fire and at least two buildings had partially collapsed.
The Eel River Valley was the hardest hit area including Fortuna and Rio Dell.
"Damage assessments are currently underway, with significant structural damages, including gas and water lines, observed in the Rio Dell community and moderate damages to properties throughout the Eel River Valley," officials posted.
The sheriff's office issued a boil water advisory for Rio Dell and parts of Fortuna. The notice indicated the advisory would be in effect for up to 48 hours.
Stores were damaged in downtown Fortuna where the power was out and shattered glass littered the sidewalks.
In Rio Dell, a hamlet of about 3,000 people where destruction was worst, at least 15 homes were severely damaged and deemed uninhabitable and 18 others were moderately damaged, officials said after a partial assessment. They estimated that 30 people were displaced and said that number could rise to 150 after a full tally of damage.
The city's water system was shut down for repairs for as long as two days because of leaks. Portable toilets were set up at City Hall and water was being handed out at the fire house.
There is "some damage" to buildings and infrastructure, and two hospitals in the area lost power and were running on generators, but the scale of the damage appeared to be "minimal" compared to the strength of the quake, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
"It felt like my roof was coming down," Cassondra Stoner said. "When I woke up, the only thing I could think about was, 'Get the freaking kids.'"
When the ground stopped moving, Stoner's family was fine — a daughter even slept through the racket. But when she showed up to work at Dollar General, she found tiles had fallen from the ceiling, shelves were toppled and the contents of the discount store were scattered on the floor.
Geologists say the epicenter was 2 miles offshore in the Pacific near the seismically-active triple junction of the Cascadia Subduction Zone (megathrust) -- which runs from Vancouver Island to Northern California. The San Andreas and Mendocino faults also stretch into zone. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck there in 1992.
"We're in this moment of geologic time where the most exciting, dynamic area of California happens to be Humboldt County and the adjacent offshore area," said Lori Dengler, professor emeritus of geology at Cal Poly Humboldt.
Officials said that historically there have been 40 quakes ranging in magnitude from 6 to 7.
The city of Eureka, population 26,000, said on its website that its communications center was receiving a high volume of calls but "no significant damage" was immediately reported.
The California Highway Patrol reported the Fernbridge, a 1,320-foot-long concrete arch bridge that crosses the Eel River, has cracks in four places. The bridge, one of the main routes into Ferndale was closed to traffic and Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said the repairs to the bridge would begin immediately.
"I've issued a $6 million emergency director's order to the District 1 director in that area to bring a contractor on board as quickly as possible," said Tavares. "They are currently mobilizing their equipment and their resources and personnel to actually be on site by later today and begin the reconstruction work on that bridge ... Most likely we will shore that bridge and get it ready and open to the public and traffic and then commence with the final repairs to the bridge."
The sheriff's office posted that the quakes have not triggered a tsunami warning, but urged local residents only to call 911 if absolutely necessary as their emergency lines were being overwhelmed.
The quake left several residents with major cleanups at their homes.
Caroline Titus posted a video of the damage in her living room adding -- "That was a big one. Power is now out in #ferndaleca. House is a mess."
Local resident Paul Bugnacki also posted photos of damage at his home, adding -- "Major quake in #humboldt just a bit ago. We've got some broken stuff but no major structural damage to the house. Power is out though."
The USGS said hundreds have reported feeling the early morning temblor from Redding to San Francisco to Medford, Ore.
Meanwhile, Dan Carmell posted -- "I didn't feel the Willow Creek one (I'm in Eureka) but I felt both the others and one separate aftershock. Power out here for sure, just a few broken/scattered items."
Karen Burgess' home was also rocked.
"Minor damage and a mess to clear up in McKinleyville. A few broken drinking glasses and the water heater is leaking. Dresser drawers opened and contents of open shelves went all over the floor," she posted.
Sari Swede also was shaken up, posting -- "Arcata- big quake- rolling waves. one mirror smashed onto floor."
The earthquake came just days after a small magnitude 3.6 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area, waking up thousands of people before 4 a.m. Saturday and causing minor damage.
That earthquake was centered in El Cerrito, about a 16-mile (25-kilometer) drive to downtown San Francisco.
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