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‘My house is full of bricks’: Residents take stock of damage after powerful quake hits Northern California

RIO DELL — Jacqui McIntosh’s nearly three-month wait to sell her quaint, century-old logging home here ended in a moment of sheer terror.

She was supposed to get an offer Tuesday morning. But in the dead of night — barely hours before that call was scheduled — her home convulsed with enough force to tear it free from its foundation, break open the main gas line and completely detach her laundry room.

“My house is done,” McIntosh said. “I’m just kind of like, ‘Well, damn.’ I don’t know what to do.”

McIntosh was among the scores of people suffering after a 6.4 temblor hit the coast of Northern California early Tuesday. The powerful quake — which injured several people and resulted in at least two deaths — sheared houses from their foundations and left thousands of people without power across a broad swath of Humboldt County. It was the largest quake in Northern California since one in Humboldt County in December of 2016.

“My chimney is in my front yard, my fireplace is in the middle of my living room, and I have big cracks in my foundation,” said Rio Dell resident Ginger Parker, 50, who suffered a black eye during the quake. “My whole inside of my house is full of bricks.”

Two people died as a result of medical emergencies that occurred during or just after the quake, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said. No further details were released about where those people died or the circumstances of their deaths. The sheriff’s office also confirmed that 11 people were injured, though the severity of those injuries was not announced. State officials said earlier Tuesday that most injuries appeared to be minor and moderate across the quake zone.

Chief Shane Wilson of the Rio Dell Fire Department said one person died after suffering a heart attack immediately after the earthquake, though it was not immediately clear whether that person had been included in the sheriff’s office casualty count.

More than 71,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers lost power, and 59,000 of them remained without electricity Tuesday afternoon. The utility said in a memo that power may be restored by the end of Tuesday, according to county officials, though a PG&E public statement said that a damage assessment could take days.

The earthquake struck around 2:34 a.m. Tuesday just offshore of Humboldt County — sending out shockwaves that were felt as far away as Redding to the east and the Bay Area to the south. It hit about 10 miles beneath the earth’s surface, centered along the southern portion of the Juan de Fuca plate — a piece of the Earth’s crust between the North American and Pacific plates off the California coast.

It’s an area that’s prone to powerful quakes, having experienced about 40 temblors of magnitude 6 to 7 over the last century, said Cynthia Pridmore of the California Earthquake Authority.

Even so, Tuesday’s episode packed a terrifying punch. For hours, aftershocks rattled already frayed residents as the Earth’s crust settled. By 11 a.m., about 80 aftershocks had followed the quake.

“I thought God was coming to get me,” said Debra Thompson, 64, a retired care worker. “I got onto my knees. I started praying, for everybody to be safe.”

The hardest hit area appeared to be around the towns of Rio Dell and Fortuna — small towns along Highway 101 that routinely host tourists visiting nearby Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Fifteen buildings were declared uninhabitable by 3 p.m., with another 10 to 15 expected to also be “red-tagged” by the end of the day, Wilson said. In all, 45 to 50 people were forced from their homes, a figure that could jump to as high as 150, Wilson added.

In addition, Humboldt County officials said Rio Dell had to shut down its water main because of cracked pipes.

Boil water advisories were issued for Rio Dell as well as the following parts of Fortuna: Forest Hills Drive, Newell Drive, Valley View Drive, Boyden Lane, Scenic Drive and Cypress Loop Road. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services said water should be brought to a boil, boiled for one minute and then allowed to cool before being consumed.

A number of homes suffered broken foundations, city manager Kyle Knopp said, adding that other houses were jolted so severely that they “hopped off their foundations.”

When the quake hit, Scott Lester and his wife felt their way downstairs in the dark, Lester carrying their smallest child through broken glass and water to find the older boys and flee the house.

Hours later, Lester walked through his blue, two-story house, pointing out the cracks in the walls of nearly every room. Their large saltwater aquarium shattered and spilled water, glass shards and fish across the living room. Pictures beside the stairs had fallen and smashed. Lester said it felt like “the ground was giving away.”

“We just tried to get out to the front because we didn’t know what was going to come next or how bad the damage was,” said Lester, 36, a county road worker who lives in Rio Dell. He and his wife have cuts on their feet, but the family is otherwise fine, he said.

Sue Long, the former mayor of Fortuna who retired from the City Council on Monday, said the earthquake lasted so long that she found herself thinking, “Whoa, when is this going to actually stop?”

“I thought my house was going to come right off the foundation,” Long said. “This was a scary one. I grew up with earthquakes here, and most of the time I didn’t bother getting out of bed.”

Humboldt County officials said there was “widespread damage” to roads and homes, particularly in the Eel River Valley. A couple of houses in Ferndale also came off their foundations, and several others had cracked walls and hanging rain gutters.

The 111-year-old Fernbridge historic bridge along Highway 211 was closed Tuesday morning after cracking in multiple places, said Tom Mattson, Humboldt County’s public works director. The bridge, which spans roughly a quarter mile over the Eel River, is a critical access point for the town of Ferndale.

Multiple other Humboldt County roads were closed — one from a gas leak and others due to cracking in their pavement.

Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal declared a local state of emergency, which will allow the county to seek state and federal reimbursement for repairs and other impacts related to the temblor. The American Red Cross California Gold Country Region also opened an overnight shelter for displaced residents at the Rohner Park Fireman Pavilion, located at 9 Park St. in Fortuna.

As dusk returned to the region, Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn said that in a county with the memory of a catastrophic 7.2 quake in 1992 that leveled much of the same area, residents remained on edge.

“We’re having shakers all day,” Bohn said of the aftershocks. “Things seem like they’re settling down or settling up, whichever way you look at it. But everyone’s nervous — these never come in ones, and you just hope that the last one you got is going to end up being the biggest.”

George Avalos, Jason Green, Rick Hurd, George Kelly and Robert Salonga and contributed to this report.

People walk down a darkened Francis Street as a solitary Christmas tree glows in Ferndale, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. Ferndale and many other communities were without power after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the coastline near Eureka early Tuesday.
People walk down a darkened Francis Street as a solitary Christmas tree glows in Ferndale, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. Ferndale and many other communities were without power after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the coastline near Eureka early Tuesday. (Photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

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