Earthquake: Magnitude 5.4 quake hits Northern California days after deadly temblor
A magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Humboldt County on New Year’s Day, rattling an area of Northern California that was still recovering from a deadly temblor just before Christmas.
The epicenter of Sunday morning’s earthquake was about 26 miles from Eureka and nine miles from Rio Dell, the city hit hardest by the Dec. 20 quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Residents reported violent shaking that started Sunday at 10:35 a.m., rattling church services and New Year’s Day brunches.
The temblor came 12 days after a magnitude 6.4 quake killed two people, left a dozen injured and caused widespread damage in Rio Dell, a lumber town 25 miles south of Eureka with a population of about 3,500. Dozens of buildings were red-tagged in that earthquake, leaving families homeless for the holidays. Residents were under a boil-water order until last Wednesday.
There was additional damage in Rio Dell from Sunday’s quake, which residents and officials described as a violent jolt, rather than prolonged shaking. It was not immediately clear how many structures were affected or whether they had sustained damage in the first quake.
The county is urging residents to report damage from the earthquake to emergency officials.
“We’re encouraging community members to be prepared for aftershocks,” said Cati Gallardo, public information officer for Humboldt County.
About 30% of Rio Dell residents are without water, and about half are without power, Humboldt County said at 5 p.m. Sunday. Pacific Gas and Electric estimated that nearly 1,100 households were without electricity at about noon Sunday, falling to 300 by 5 p.m. Some residents reported losing phone service and Internet access.
Sunday’s earthquake was large enough to trigger the state’s early warning system, which is designed to send alerts to residents. Some residents reported receiving an alert several seconds before the earthquake hit; others said alerts showed up after the shaking had stopped.
Videos taken by residents in Rio Dell and nearby towns, including Scotia and Fortuna, showed a violent jolt that dislodged books and other objects from shelves and sent televisions crashing to the ground. Doorbell cameras captured minivans swaying back and forth in a parking lot and the wheels of a lightweight truck briefly leaving the ground.
“It was like the whole house was pushed to the side,” said resident Nancy Black. She said she didn’t receive the earthquake alert until the shaking had stopped but suspected that something was about to happen because her dogs, Shadow and Copper, started to whine and run in circles seconds beforehand.
Black said her home didn’t seem to have structural damage, but “everything is a mess.” Most of the contents of her pantry spilled to the floor, and she was sweeping up broken plates and putting books back on shelves.
“The earthquake felt more violent this time,” Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes said in an interview with CNN. “It was shorter but more violent. My refrigerator moved two feet. Things came out of the refrigerator. There’s a crack in my wall from the violence of it.”
Rio Dell Police Chief Greg Allen said Sunday that several houses had been shaken off their foundations, and homes and businesses had broken windows. Some streets have “huge cracks,” he said.
“A lot of things knocked off of shelves, TV off the walls, windows broken, dishes broken — you name it,” Allen said in an interview with a Bay Area television station. “If it was on the wall, it’s probably on the floor right now.”
Caltrans temporarily closed a main artery into the area to check for damage. Fernbridge, a historic poured-concrete span that carries U.S. Route 211 across the Eel River and connects coastal communities with Highway 101, was closed for several hours Sunday for a seismic safety inspection, Caltrans said. Repair work was underway on the bridge Sunday afternoon, Gallardo said. The span had reopened to one-way traffic, she said, but residents should expect delays.
State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said the city of Rio Dell was testing the water system to ensure it was safe to drink.
A shelter opened Sunday afternoon at Rio Dell’s Monument Middle School for residents who were forced out of their homes or need other assistance in the wake of both earthquakes, the county said. The shelter, run by the Red Cross, offers cots and blankets, hygiene kits, meals, drinking water, showers and charging stations.
There are an average of five earthquakes per year with magnitudes between 5 and 6 in California and Nevada, according to a three-year data sample.
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