One day after 6.5 Northern California earthquake, shaky residents sweep up

The day after a powerful earthquake rocked the Northern California city of Eureka, residents woke today to a mess: toppled chimneys, downed traffic signals and shattered nerves as minor aftershocks continued to rattle windows.

About 30 people visited hospitals for minor injuries, but there were no reports of major injuries caused by the magnitude-6.5 temblor, which struck offshore at 4:27 p.m. about 33 miles southwest of the coastal city of 26,000.

More than 25,000 people were initially without power, but electricity was restored to everyone shortly after 6 a.m., according to David Eisenhauer, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

“We’re checking all the bridges and buildings and hope to have a complete damage assessment soon,” said Leslie Lollich, spokeswoman for the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services.

Already, officials had declared an apartment building and several commercial structures unsafe, referring the residents to Red Cross officials for temporary shelter.

At the 124-year-old St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church in Eureka, parishioners were busy picking up pieces of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling and climbing ladders to adjust paintings that had tilted in the shaking. The church’s tall steeple was intact after the quake.

Pastor H. Loren Allen said he had delivered a homily to church members that gave thanks for the relatively minor damage. “I didn’t want to make light of it,” he said, “but I didn’t want to sound like the grim reaper either.”

Centered about 13 miles deep, the quake was felt as far north as central Oregon, as far south as Santa Cruz and as far east as Reno, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

“It was a monstrous one,” said Phil Burns, owner of Mity Nice Bakery Cafe Restaurant in Eureka, which is about 80 miles south of the Oregon border. “Usually, they’re sharp, but this one was very wiggly. It was rolling in all directions.”

In the south Eureka fishing village of King Salmon, the 10 seconds of shaking broke power lines and knocked out electricity throughout the isolated seaside community of about 750 people.

When it stopped, people gathered in the street. Some were visibly distraught. Shouts of “You all right?” were heard. Then car engines began revving up as residents raced to the only access road to the closest higher ground, the 150-foot-high Bell Hill, in case of a tsunami, said William Bowman, a resident. None materialized, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Residents of Northern California coastal communities have reason to worry about tsunamis. In 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake off the Alaskan coast sent a catastrophic tsunami to Crescent City, north of Eureka, killing 11 people.

Frayed nerves were evident throughout the Humboldt County region as dusk fell. Rooms at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, 15 miles north of Eureka, were in the dark, and patients in robes were sitting in the hallway. Generators provided only enough power to keep vital machinery working, said nursing supervisor Annie Conkler.

“Everyone’s shaken, but fine,” she said, adding that there were no patients with quake-related injuries coming into the emergency room.

At Myrtle Avenue Pet Center on Hubbard Lane in Eureka, owner Melanie Noe spent the evening picking up shampoo bottles and shattered dog bowls. The only other casualties were the cats’ nerves, she said.

On the other side of town, lamps and dishes crashed down at Antiques and Goodies, causing a couple to run out of the store, while two women took cover under a table. “We’ve been through a lot of earthquakes, but I can’t recall there ever being any this bad,” said store owner Sandra Hall.

To the south, floodlights fell at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, and windows shattered in Ferndale. Farther south, in Redway, shoppers abandoned their carts in a grocery store and raced to their cars.

State officials said authorities in the county have not asked for additional assistance from Sacramento.

“It looks like they will be able to handle it on their own,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency. “Our big concern now is aftershocks.”

At least 10 aftershocks were reported in the hours after the temblor, the strongest of them registering 4.2.

Richard Allen, a UC Berkeley seismologist, said the area where the earthquake occurred was in the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three tectonic plates collide: the Pacific, North American and Juan de Fuca. It is one of the most seismically active parts of the San Andreas fault system that runs through the state.

“Although 6.5 is a large event, it is not uncommon there by any means,” said Richard Buckmaster, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist.

The last major quakes in the offshore region, Buckmaster said, were magnitude 7.2 and 6.6 temblors in June 2005.