6.5 Magnitude Quake Rattles Northern California

January 10, 2010

A 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Northern California on Jan. 9, shaking buildings south of the Oregon border and knocking out power in several coastal communities.

The quake hit at about 4:27 p.m. PST about 22 miles from Ferndale, the U.S. Geological Survey said. According to the USGS, the quake hit at a depth of nearly 10 miles. Seven aftershocks followed in the two hours after the quake, the biggest registering at 6:21 p.m. PST at a magnitude of 4.5.

Catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide said little structural damage has been reported, and only minor injuries occurred. Residential construction in the affected region is dominated by wood frame, as is Ferndale’s historic downtown. There is one report of a wood frame house in Eureka having been knocked off its foundation; otherwise the bulk of the damage seems to have been limited to non-structural elements and contents, AIR Worldwide said.

Authorities in the nearby city of Eureka and other area communities said 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 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.

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

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.”

AIR will continue to analyze seismological information and damage for this event and additional information will be provided if warranted.

Police in Ferndale 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.”

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. “All the power is out, people are out walking around.”

The quake was felt as far south as Capitola in central California, and as far north as central Oregon, USGS geophysicist Richard Buckmaster said.

Arcata is located about 270 miles (north of San Francisco in a coastal area known for periodic earthquakes. In 1964 a tsunami washed away 11 people in Crescent City, 80 milesto the north of Arcata. It is the only tsunami to take lives in the continental United States.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there was no threat of the quake generating a tsunami.

There is a small chance — 5 percent to 10 percent — of another magnitude-6.5 temblor or larger hitting the area over the next week, but the odds dramatically decrease as time passes, the USGS said.

There’s also a 78 percent chance of a strong and potentially damaging aftershock magnitude-5 or larger over the same period. The earthquake probabilities are based on statistical observations of past earthquakes in California and are not predictions, the USGS said.

Dan Bowermaster of San Francisco was with relatives in Eureka when the quake hit, moving the refrigerator in his cousins’ home about 3 feet. He said he had been in several moderate and large quakes throughout California but had never felt anything as strong as this one.

“It was extremely unsettling, it was shaking in kind of a circular way,” he said.

Sandra Hall, owner of Antiques and Goodies in Eureka, 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 store has been open.

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

Earthquake insurance penetration, particularly for residential properties — remain low in California. That, and the fact that the quake occurred along a relatively sparsely populated stretch of California, will limit insured losses from this event, according to AIR. The modeling firm will continue to analyze seismological information and damage for this event and additional information will be provided if warranted.

Sources: USGS, AIR Worldwide, AP

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