No water. No power. Damaged buildings. California towns struggle after 6.4 earthquake

A collapsed deck outside a home.
Earthquake damage outside a building in Rio Dell, Calif., on Tuesday. The 6.4 quake struck in the night and immediately knocked out power.
(Kent Porter / Press Democrat via Associated Press)

Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes was jolted awake by the Humboldt County earthquake Tuesday.

“It was the most intense earthquake that I’ve felt,” the mayor of the small Northern California city told The Times. “It was a long-duration earthquake, so it was not only significant in size at 6.4, it was also long.”

She then had to get to work, coordinating with Rio Dell’s building department and volunteer fire department to check on structural integrity of homes as well as the dozens of emergency calls that were flooding in from residents.


Garnes said that about 60 emergency calls came through in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Most of the injuries in Rio Dell were minor, she said. There was one fatality during the earthquake, but it is unclear whether or how it may have been related to the tremors.

A 6.4 earthquake near Ferndale has resulted in at least two deaths from medical emergencies, 11 injuries and extensive damage.

Dec. 20, 2022

The mayor said a call came in after the earthquake about someone who was having difficulty breathing. The person went into cardiac arrest, and emergency medical personnel performed CPR.

The person was taken to a hospital but did not survive.

“The fire chief can’t say yet that it was caused by the earthquake,” Garnes said, “but it was during the earthquake.”

On Tuesday at midmorning, building inspectors were moving through Rio Dell checking on the structural integrity of houses and other structures, Garnes said.

City officials expect about 50 to 150 people to be displaced by the earthquake. Those who are displaced will be taken in at Monument Middle School, if the school is structurally sound.

Otherwise, people will be housed at the Fire Hall, she said. Like the rest of Humboldt County, Rio Dell currently has no power, but the city also has no water, Garnes said.


More than 3 million people were notified by phone early Tuesday of a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that shook Northern California.

Dec. 20, 2022

“Our biggest issues are no electricity and no water. Structural damage is the next thing on the list,” she said. “Our water system got really wrecked. So many leaks.”

The quake was reported at 2:34 a.m. about 7½ miles southwest of Ferndale, Calif. It caused damage to structures in areas south of Eureka and several injuries. More than 70,000 customers are without power.

Arcata residents Amy Uyeki, 65, and Reese Hughes, 69, were asleep when they first felt the earthquake.

The power had gone off immediately. “Afterwards, you feel sort of dizzy, and physically like you’ve been through something,” Uyeki said. “When it was happening, I thought it was the big one, because we haven’t felt anything this strong.”

The couple got down on the floor during the earthquake, which Uyeki said lasted about 15 seconds or so.

“This was very disconcerting,” Hughes said, “because it happened at nighttime, and you can’t see how much has gone down until you go around with your flashlight.”


Shelves came off walls and some household items broke, she said, but structurally the house appeared to be undamaged.

This wasn’t a typical shaker for Northern California, residents noted.

“This is a region that is used to earthquakes,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents Humboldt County. Still, he added, “this was a big one. It is being described as a long, violent shake. ... The adjective of violent has been used many times this morning.”

Individual residents reported that entire bookshelves and kitchen cabinets were emptied by the shaking.

Be in the loop when disasters — like extreme heat or a hurricane this week, or earthquakes, tsunamis and wildfires at other times — are headed California’s way.

Sept. 9, 2022

McGuire said local and state officials were working to assess damages in the area but that the communities of Rio Dell and Ferndale “took the brunt” of the damage.

The earthquake compromised multiple structures, McGuire said, “businesses as well as residential homes.”

There was one confirmed structure fire in Rio Dell associated with the earthquake that has since been put out, McGuire said. The earthquake caused some damage to Fernbridge, a Humboldt County landmark built in 1911 on State Route 211 that has survived past earthquakes and floods.


“It’s beautiful. It’s a historic bridge,” McGuire said, “iconic Humboldt County.”