6.5 Northern Calif. quake leaves jumble of debris


Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

EUREKA, Calif. — A powerful offshore earthquake that struck near the Northern California coast left a hodgepodge of debris for communities to sort through Sunday but spared residents any serious injury.

Power was mostly restored and phones were working again Sunday in Humboldt County, where residents were cleaning up and checking for structural damage in the aftermath of the 6.5 earthquake that hit late Saturday afternoon.

A mall in Eureka likely will remain closed for a few days so crews can clean up broken glass and water damage from activated sprinklers. But injuries were minor, according to hospital officials. Transportation authorities said Sunday there were no accidents or significant bridge damage attributed to the quake.

The temblor was centered in the Pacific about 22 miles west of Ferndale. It was felt in towns more than 300 miles south into central California and as far north as central Oregon, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Ferndale is about 240 miles north of San Francisco.

Dozens of people suffered minor injuries and thousands lost power.

In Eureka, north of Ferndale, residents of an apartment building were evacuated, and an office building and two other commercial structures in the town of about 26,000 people were declared unsafe for occupancy, according to Humboldt County spokesman Phil Smith-Hanes.

"Our initial reports were that, though this was a pretty decent quake, we survived it well," Smith-Hanes said, adding that damage assessments would continue Sunday across the county.

Sandra Hall, owner of Antiques and Goodies, said furniture fell over, nearly all her lamps broke and the handful of customers in her store got a big scare. She said it was the most dramatic quake in the 30 years the Eureka store has been open.

"We'll be having a sale on broken china for those who like to do mosaics," she said.

More than a dozen aftershocks, some with magnitudes as powerful as 4.5, rumbled for several hours after the initial quake, which had a depth of nearly 10 miles.

Authorities on Saturday said no major injuries were reported. But several people received minor cuts and scrapes from broken glass at the Bayshore Mall in Eureka, and an elderly person fell and broke a hip, authorities said.

"We're mostly getting reports of bumps, bruises and hits on the head," said Laurie Watson Stone, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph Hospital, a 146-bed hospital in Eureka. "The emergency room is busy, but we haven't heard of any major injuries."

Amanda Nichols, a dispatcher for Eureka Police Department, said she received a report that an infant was struck in the head with some flying debris at the mall.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman J.D. Guidi said power outages were widespread across most of Humboldt County, affecting about 25,000 customers.

No damage was done to the company's former nuclear power plant outside Eureka, said PG&E spokeswoman Janna Morris.

Several traffic lights fell and numerous residents reported water, gas and sewer leaks, Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services spokeswoman Jo Wattle said.

"People have chimneys down, and we're hearing about minor property damage and lots of glassware broken," Wattle said. "People are really shaken up. It was shaking pretty good, then it had a big jolt to it at the end."

Police in Ferndale, a town of about 1,500 residents, said the earthquake caused stucco to fall off City Hall and broke shop windows, strewing the historic downtown streets with glass shards.

"I thought a tire had blown off my truck because it was so hard to keep control of the vehicle," Officer Lindsey Frank said. "Power lines were swaying, and I could see people in the fields trying to keep their balance."

Eureka city spokesman Gary Bird said because the earthquake hit shortly before dark, only the city's old town received thorough surveys for damage. Authorities there found fallen bricks and parapets that had fallen off old structures, causing damage to adjacent buildings, he said.

"There are some frayed nerves, but I think we've come through this pretty well for the magnitude of earthquake we've had," Bird said.

Televisions tumbled and objects were knocked off walls in Arcata, a small town that's home to Humboldt State University, one resident said.

"The whole town is kind of freaked out right now," said Judd Starks, the kitchen manager at a bar and restaurant known as The Alibi.

California is one of the world's most seismically active regions. More than 300 faults crisscross the state, which sits atop two of Earth's major tectonic plates, the Pacific and North American plates. About 10,000 quakes each year rattle Southern California alone, although most of them are too small to be felt.

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