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Powerful Quake Hits Northern California

January 10, 2010

Thousands Without Power

A strong, magnitude 6.5 earthquake off the coast of Northern California left thousands without power and was felt as far away as Oregon and central California, according to the Associated Press and USGS.

The quake, which struck at 4:27 p.m. PST Jan. 9 about 22 miles northwest of Ferndale, CA, sent people running into the streets while buildings shook and power lines snapped, cutting power to several coastal communities.

Eight aftershocks followed in the three hours after the temblor, the strongest of which occurred in the same general area at 6:21 p.m. PST with a magnitude of 4.5, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The quake hit at a depth of nearly 10 miles about 27 miles offshore from the coastal city of Eureka, CA, the USGS said. Eureka, which has a population of about 26,000, is located roughly 270 miles north of San Francisco.

There were no reports of the quake causing a tsunami, the USGS said.

“Strike-slip earthquakes are less likely to produce large tsunamis because they cause relatively little vertical ground displacement,” the agency wrote in a summary posted on its Web site.

“Shaking was strongest near the coast line between Petrolia and Eureka, CA, although felt reports for this event extend from as far south and north as Capitola, CA and Eugene, OR, respectively, and as far east as Reno, NV,” it said.

The quake triggered the evacuation of at least one apartment building, the Associated Press reported.

No major injuries were reported, but several people received minor cuts and scrapes from broken glass at the Bayshore Mall in Eureka, fire spokesman Gary Bird told the Associated Press.

Although authorities were still assessing damages, some power lines were confirmed down and a number of gas leaks had been reported, Bird said. 

“There are some frayed nerves, but I think we’ve come through this pretty well for the magnitude of earthquake we’ve had,” he said.

J.D. Guidi, a spokesman with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said there were widespread power outages throughout Humboldt County, affecting some 25,000 customers, the AP reported.

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

“People have chimneys down, and we’re hearing about minor property damage and lots of glassware broken,” Wattle told the AP.

“People are really shaken up. It was shaking pretty good, then it had a big jolt to it at the end.”

According to police in Ferndale, the quake caused stucco to fall off City Hall and shattered shop windows, leaving the historic downtown streets covered with shards of glass.

“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.”

The Los Angeles Times reported items falling from store shelves in Eureka.

Sandra Hall, owner of Antiques and Goodies, said the quake was the most dramatic she had seen in the 30 years her store has been open.

Furniture fell over and nearly all her lamps broke, giving customers a scare, she said.

“We’ll be having a sale on broken china for those who like to do mosaics,” she told the Associated Press.

Others in the area reported similar experiences.

“The whole town is kind of freaked out right now,” said Judd Starks, the kitchen manager at The Alibi restaurant.

“All the power is out, people are out walking around,” Starks told the Associated Press.

The quake was felt as far south as central California and as far north as central Oregon, according to USGS geophysicist Richard Buckmaster.

The Northern California coastal area is known for its periodic earthquakes. In the only tsunami to take lives in the continental United States, 11 people were killed in a Crescent City tsunami in 1964.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there was no threat of Saturday’s quake triggering a tsunami.

However, further aftershocks remain a possibility.

“The probability of a strong and possibly damaging aftershock (magnitude 5 or greater) in the 7 days following the earthquake is approximately 78%,” the USGS said.

“Most likely, the mainshock will be the largest in the sequence. However, there is a small chance (~5-10%) of an earthquake equal to or larger than this mainshock in the next 7 days.”

“In addition, numerous M3-5 aftershocks are expected to occur in the same 7-day period, but most are unlikely to be felt due to the distance from land.”

The USGS said the figures are based on statistical observations of past California quakes and are not predictions.

Image Caption: Aerial view: Eureka on Humboldt Bay. Courtesy Robert Campbell/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

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