Eureka dusts itself off after 6.5 quake


Old Town Eureka lies off the serene waterfront of Humboldt Bay across from Woodley Island and is filled with antique stores, art galleries, coffee shops and fine seafood restaurants.

But every so often, as all Eurekans know, the ground shakes and the historic buildings in Old Town -- many of which have posted red signs warning of “unreinforced masonry” on their storefronts -- take a hit.

Strong quakes: A list in Tuesday’s Section A of California’s recent strong earthquakes mistakenly gave the date of last week’s quake in Eureka as Jan. 9, 2009. It should have said 2010. —

It happened in Eureka in 1980. And in 1992. And in 1994. And again Saturday afternoon, when a 6.5 temblor hit.

Windows and ceilings cracked. Bottles of wine and liquor crashed to the floor. And some worried that the buildings themselves might topple over.

Living with the threat of earthquakes is a way of life in Eureka, some of the city’s 26,000 residents say, and this weekend’s temblor was part of that rhythm.

“We understand the geography of our area,” said Diane Barmore, owner of an Old Town restaurant, where the quake was Topic A on Monday. “We know there are faults all around.”

Eureka and the rest of California’s North Coast lie near what earthquake experts call the “triple junction.” Off the coast, the Gorda, Pacific and North America plates intersect. Studies show that the Gorda plate is wedging under the North America plate, causing frequent and sometimes large earthquakes.

But in Old Town and elsewhere on the North Coast, residents were largely taking their geological quirk in stride.

“I talked to people who just moved here and they thought their life was ending, but for me it was just annoying,” said Sandra Warshaw, who has lived in Eureka since 1985. “It’s like an ‘oh, well’ rather than an ‘oh, my God.’ ”

Warshaw was in Old Town on Monday snapping photos of a building that once housed the now-vacant Old Town Bar & Grill. Officials said the earthquake caused significant damage to the brick building and that its parapet fell several stories onto an adjacent business, crashing through the roof and squashing a car.

The Eureka City Council on Monday voted to allow that brick building on 2nd Street to be demolished. It had been damaged by previous quakes as well.

Other shops like Old Town Coffee & Chocolates suffered broken windows. The Eureka branch of the North Coast Co-Op, which is on the edge of Old Town, had products littering the floor and had to throw out some food because of lost electricity.

Larry Glass, a city councilman who owns a record shop in Old Town called The Works, said it was miraculous that no lives were lost and that damage was not more widespread.

Glass moved to Eureka in 1971 from Los Angeles and said he had been through too many temblors to count. The worst, he said, was in 1992. He remembered most of his merchandise fell off the shelves and brick dust covered the shop.

Glass said this weekend’s earthquake felt like the worst he had been through, but that the only damage to his store was a fallen picture of singer-songwriter Rose Maddox.

City authorities said there were 219 damage reports. Their current estimate of the cost: $21.8 million.

About 20 people were displaced from their homes, but the bulk of them came from the same apartment building near the center of the city. Some people were treated for cuts, bruises, scrapes and anxiety-related problems. One person -- an elderly woman who broke her hip -- was admitted to the hospital.

Barmore, 64, has owned the Cafe Waterfront Oyster Bar & Grill in Old Town for more than two decades and said that although she was fearful of earthquakes and “the big one” that experts say will come someday, she doesn’t think of moving.

“The fear only comes up in any big way when there’s an earthquake, of course. The other times you can rationalize through belief or faith that you’re going to be OK. You have to develop a belief or faith that the universe is going to be kind to you,” she said.

On Monday, Barmore and her son, 41-year-old Ben Smith, who manages the restaurant, sifted through some of the glasses and plates that broke in a bed and breakfast they operate on the floor above the cafe.

Many shop owners in Old Town agreed that business seemed somewhat normal as the week began.

One owner said she made a conscious effort to be “visibly open” so that tourists and residents knew most of Old Town was open for business.

In the front window of Eureka Books, owner Scott Brown displayed several temblor-related books, pamphlets and old newspapers after the quake struck, including “Living with the Changing California Coast” and “Seismic History of the San Francisco Region.”

A customer walked in and it was almost business as usual.

“I was in the middle of buying this when the earthquake happened,” said Bob Whitehead, who has lived in Eureka for nearly four decades and presented “The Song Celestial” to Brown.

“Yes,” Brown said without hesitation. “Three dollars and twenty-six cents.”