At least two people have died, and 11 more were injured, after a strong earthquake shook Humboldt County in northern California just after 2:30 a.m. PT, one year to the day that a similarly large quake shook the same area. More than 80 aftershocks followed the initial quake.
The two unidentified victims “died as a result of medical emergencies occurring during and/or just following the earthquake,” Humboldt County officials said on Tuesday afternoon.
The U.S. Geological survey said the quake, measuring 6.4 magnitude, hit about 7 miles southwest of Ferndale. A 6.2 quake hit the same county on Dec. 20, 2021. Multiple residents posted to social media that Tuesday’s earthquake lasted at least 15 seconds.
Several reports of gas leaks, fires and structural damage emerged early Tuesday.
City officials in Rio Dell said it could take up to 48 hours to return water to homes, and that many residences are “red tagged”—deemed too dangerous to inhabit because of structure damage.
“One of the largest problems we’ve ever seen with this number of homes red-tagged,” said City Manager Kyle Knopp in a press conference.
Wendy Pickett Monolias, who lives about 20 miles north of the epicenter in Eureka, told CNN that the shaking woke her up.
“Once the shaking finally stopped, we got our flashlights and phones and looked around. Everything was in shambles,” she said. “Things you wouldn’t expect to have fallen over or broken did. An entire cabinet in the bathroom fell over and broke apart.”
A county official told ABC7 that the small town of Rio Dell was a “total mess,” with homes off their foundations and no water or power for its 3,300 residents.
The California Highway Patrol warned of a bridge in Ferndale cracking in four places and deputies warned of “widespread damages to roads and homes.” The Lost Coast Outpost reported that school was canceled on Tuesday in the county.
Early reports suggested at least 70,000 people in Humboldt County were without power immediately after the earthquake was reported.
Tuesday morning’s quake may not be the last major one to rattle Humboldt County this week. A 13 percent chance of a magnitude 5 or higher earthquake coming before Christmas remains, Cynthia Pridmore of the California Geological Survey said in a news briefing.
Pridmore said there were more than 80 aftershocks recorded by Tuesday afternoon. If the shocks continue as expected, even weaker ones could severely damage infrastructure that’s been made vulnerable by the initial quake.
“People do need to be prepared,” Pridmore said. “Especially if they’re in weakened structures.”
A meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Eureka office told The Daily Beast that shaking from aftershocks has been felt throughout the day.
Caroline Titus, the editor and publisher of The Ferndale Enterprise, tweeted a photo of the aftermath in her 140-year-old Victorian home, which she wrote sustained some structural damage.
Other residents reported internal damage such as shelves falling and broken windows.
There were no immediate tsunami warnings, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but several people reported smaller aftershocks and the smell of gas leaks. A number of people also reported being alerted by the USGS Shake Alert app, which sends notifications when seismic activity occurs.