Northern California earthquake leaves 2 dead, buckles road, causes damage and injury

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake rocked the Northern California coast early Tuesday morning, left two people dead, caused gas leaks, shattered glass, left thousands without power, one buckled highway and jittery residents living through dozens of aftershocks.

The Humboldt County Sheriff said at an afternoon press conference that the two people, aged 72 and 83, died as a result of medical emergencies during the quake. The sheriff also said at least 12 others were injured, and that number is expected to grow.

The US Geological Survey reported the strong quake struck at 2:34 a.m. Tuesday, about 7.5 miles west-southwest of Ferndale, a small city in Humboldt County, roughly 200 miles northwest of San Francisco and close to the Pacific coast. 

The epicenter was just offshore at a depth of about 10 miles, but there was no threat of a tsunami. There were at least 80 aftershocks recorded in the surrounding areas of Fortuna and Rio Dell – the other hardest hit towns. Officials said there's a 13% chance there will be an earthquake 5.0 or greater within the next week.

"This was a big deal," Humbolt County William Honsal said. "But it's not the big one. This gives up the wake-up call. We have to be ready. This is just an opportunity for us to get ready for that big one." 

The sheriff's office was flooded with 911 calls, with people worried about gas leaks and power outages. The PG&E outage map showed more than 70,000 customers were without power. That number was down to 30,000 customer powers in the dark Tuesday night.

MORE: Dramatic photos from Humboldt County's 6.4-quake in Northern California


"Right now, people have self evacuated, based on their assessment of their living situation," Honsal said. "This is a very rural area." 

MORE: California earthquake alerts: how to get notified before a quake

While there have been more damaging quakes, residents were on edge. 

"I definitely felt it," said Nathan Scheinman, a nursery employee in Ferndale, where objects fell all over the floor. "I'd been asleep for 2/12 hours and was violently woken up. Jumped out of bed and heard this roaring." 

Caroline Titus shared video of her coffee station falling off the counter in her 140-year-old Victorian home. 

A porch collapsed in nearby Rio Dell. Shampoo bottles fell off the shelf at a Safeway. There were reports of broken glass throughout the region. In Fortuna, a TV reporter shared pictures of damaged storefronts.

Honsal said that there were indeed "major impacts" to homes, and there were damages to utilities and water supplies. Fire crews and paramedics were out in force, he said, making sure people were OK.

As officials were assessing the damage, it seemed immediately clear that this quake did not do the destructive damage as the 6.0-magnitude earthquake in Napa in 2014, where one person was killed and about 200 people injured. 

"To my knowledge, we haven't had catastrophic failure of apartment buildings or those kinds of things," Honsal said. "But we do have localized damaged, definitely people who have gotten injured,a couple reported injuries, mostly minor at this time."

Rio Dell City Manager Kyle Knoop said about 15 homes were red tagged, leaving 30 residents displaced. The city expects for that number to exceed 100 people displaced.

Local agencies are working to find lodging for those currently displaced.

At least 18 other homes were yellow tagged.

Knoop said there is no running water in the city of Rio Dell, but water bottles are being distributed to the public.


Buckled State Route 211 in Humboldt County. 

Humboldt County is home to 136,000 residents and is in a region of the state that has a long history of large earthquakes, including a magnitude 7.0 in 1980 and a 6.8 in 2014, according to the California Earthquake Authority. Last year to the day, a 6.2-magnitude quake hit almost this very sot. 

Keith Knudsen, acting director of the USGS Earthquake Science Center, said it will take some hours to figure out the "hazard assessments," which are conducted by architects and building code officials.

Still some roads were closed for inspection, just in case.

State Sen. Mike McGuire tweeted that state Route 211, otherwise known as Fernbridge, would be shut down for a bit as CalTrans crews assessed the infrastructure. 

Caltrans tweeted a photo of the buckled road by a sign for the Eel River. 

The quake triggered the West Coast’s warning system that detects the start of a quake and sends alerts to cellphones in the affected region that can give people notice to take safety precautions before strong shaking reaches them.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said 3 million people got the alert 10 seconds before the quake actually hit. 

Eureka resident Dan Dixon, 40, said he and his wife were sleeping when it jolted them awake and shook everything, throwing pictures in their home to the ground. Their infant daughter, he said, slept through it.

"It was probably the most violent earthquake we have felt in the 15 years I have lived here," he said. "It physically moved our bed."

Later that evening Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency over the earthquake to support emergency response efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.