RIO DEL, Calif. (AP) — A powerful earthquake that residents described as “violent” shook a rural part of the northern California coast early Tuesday, injuring 11 people and leaving 70,000 without power. The storm was about to roll in, officials said.
The magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck at 2:34 a.m. near Ferndale, a small community about 210 miles (345 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco and close to the Pacific coast. The epicenter was offshore at a depth of about 10 miles (16 kilometers). Several aftershocks followed.
Although the area, a lightly populated part of California, is prone to earthquakes in the forests of the far North Coast, residents described the event as particularly jarring.
Eureka resident Dan Dixon, 40, said he and his wife were sleeping when it woke them up and everything shook, throwing pictures to the ground in their home. His infant daughter, he said, slept through it.
“It was probably the most violent earthquake we’ve felt in the 15 years I’ve been living here,” he said. “It physically moved our bed.”
There was “some damage” to buildings and infrastructure in Humboldt County, and two hospitals in the area were without power and running on generators, but the scale of damage appeared “minimal” compared to the earthquake’s strength. Brian Ferguson is a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The area is home to redwood forests, mountains, a port, and a state university. Long before the state legalized marijuana, Humboldt was part of the three-county Emerald Triangle, where clandestine cannabis production was legendary.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement released late afternoon that 11 people were reported injured. Officials noted that two of the deaths occurred as a result of “medical emergencies” during or shortly after the earthquake.
Cal OES director Mark Gilarducci said during a news conference in Sacramento that damage was mostly concentrated in the small communities of Rio Dell, Ferndale and Fortuna.
Gilarducci did not provide any details on the extent of damage to structures and infrastructure, saying assessments were still underway. This includes the number of homes that could be damaged badly enough to displace residents, he said.
“This is another example of the fact that an earthquake can strike at any time without notice,” he said.
Authorities closed a vital bridge in Ferndale that was damaged. The state highway department tweeted a picture of the uprooted pavement.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents the area, said Rio Del, home to a few thousand people, was hit hardest. He said a structural fire was confirmed, some structures came off their foundations, and the municipal water system was damaged, but it was unclear whether any homes and businesses had lost water access.
Officials said more than 70,000 people lost power and remained without electricity for about 12 hours after the quake.
McGuire said the power outage involved the main transmission line that runs through the area and that Pacific Gas & Electric’s restoration work had been slowed because rain prevented the use of a helicopter to assess the damage. The utility was expected to restore power by evening, but residents should prepare for longer periods without power, he said.
PG&E did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment, but tweeted that crews were responding to assess their systems “and making every effort to minimize power and gas outages.” ”
Humboldt County has about 136,000 residents and is in a part of the state with a long history of large earthquakes, including magnitude 7.0 in 1980 and 6.8 in 2014, according to the California Earthquake Authority.
Ferndale resident Caroline Titus tweeted a video of broken furniture and broken dishes in her darkened home.
“Our house is a 140 year old Victorian. North/South shaking is very apparent in what fell over,” she tweeted.
Larkin O’Leary, 41, of Santa Rosa, traveled with her husband to spend their anniversary in Ferndale, where they were struck by last year’s earthquake. They decide to try again and book a romance package at a historic inn, at the same location they had been to the year before.
O’Leary said she woke up at 2:30 a.m. with a terrifying feeling and tried to go back to sleep.
“I lay down again and it was almost like someone jumped on the bed,” she said. “It was terrible. … It shook in a way I’d never experienced. It was up, down, all over.”
The couple quickly got out of Ferndale and returned to their home.
“Never again,” said O’Leary.
The earthquake occurred in an area called the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three tectonic plates meet.
“We are at this moment in geologic time where the most exciting, dynamic region of California happens to be Humboldt County and the adjacent offshore region,” said Lori Dengler, professor emeritus of geology at Cal Poly Humboldt.
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Dengler said it is normal to be uncertain about damage after a major earthquake. But she said much of the area is rural and wood-frame construction is common, which has helped limit damage in the past.
The quake triggered a massive response by the West Coast’s warning system, which detects the start of an earthquake and sends alerts to cellphones in the affected area, informing people to take safety precautions seconds before strong shaking can reach. .
Ghilarducci said the system issued an alert early Tuesday to about 3 million people in Northern California. “The system worked as we expected,” he said.
The quake came just days after a magnitude 3.6 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area, waking thousands of people and causing minor damage just before 4 a.m. Saturday.
That quake was centered in El Cerrito, about 16 miles (25 kilometers) from downtown San Francisco.