Magnitude 6.4 earthquake in California: Injuries rise to 17

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  • A magnitude 6.4 earthquake rocked Northern California early Tuesday.
  • The earthquake resulted in widespread damage and injuries across Humboldt County, where two residents died during or just after the quake.
  • As of Wednesday morning, Pacific Gas & Electric has restored power to more than 50,000 customers – more than two-thirds of the original 72,000 customers impacted.

The injury total from a deadly, magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rocked Northern California rose to 17 on Wednesday afternoon as recovery efforts continued in the area, local authorities said. 

The earthquake, which struck at 2:34 a.m. Tuesday in California’s Humboldt County, left two dead, significantly damaged buildings and knocked out power for more than 70,000 customers. 

By Wednesday afternoon, Pacific Gas & Electric had restored power to more than 60,000 customers and fewer than 5,000 still lacked electricity, according to PG&E’s outage database.

The earthquake was the strongest the area has felt in years. Because of widespread damage in the county, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal declared a local emergency Tuesday night. California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency to support emergency response.

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Where was Tuesday’s earthquake?

The earthquake occurred close to California’s Pacific coast near Ferndale, a small community about 210 miles northwest of San Francisco. The quake’s epicenter was just offshore at a depth of about 10 miles.

The region has a history of earthquakes, the U.S. Geological Survey noted Tuesday.

“This area is the most seismically active part of California,” Keith Knudsen, deputy director of the USGS Earthquake Science Center, said in a news release. “Long-time residents have likely experienced many local earthquakes and the associated intense shaking.”

The quake was felt as far east as Redding, California, roughly 160 miles east of Ferndale, and as far south as the Bay Area, according to California Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.

Two elderly residents died, 17 people injured

Two residents in the area died “as a result of medical emergencies occurring during and/or just following the earthquake,” the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. The two were 72 and 83 years old, according to Honsal. 

Honsal said they probably died because a “medical emergency happened at the moment of the earthquake and EMS could not get there in time to deliver them to the proper medical facility.”

On Wednesday, officials the sheriff’s office said the deceased’s medical emergencies “are believed to have been exacerbated by the stress of the earthquake.” 

Seventeen people have reported injuries, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday, rising from 11 injuries reported Tuesday

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Officials block the Fernbridge in Ferndale, Calif., following an earthquake Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.

Homes ‘knocked off their foundations,’ water boil advisory issued

In the hours after the quake, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office confirmed widespread damage to roads and homes” throughout the county, which has a population of about 136,000 people.

Destruction mostly affected the small communities of Rio Dell, Ferndale and Fortuna, Ghilarducci said in a news conference Tuesday in Sacramento.

Scenes of damage provided by Diana McIntosh of Humboldt County after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in Northern California on Tuesday, Dec. 20. 2022.

“I was screaming,” Diana McIntosh, a Humboldt County resident whose home was damaged, told USA TODAY on Tuesday. “The way that it shook … I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.”

Ghilarducci said at least one structure fire had been reported along with two homes that were “knocked off their foundations” or partially collapsed.

Though damage was still being assessed as of Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said “significant structural damages, including gas and water lines” were seen in the community of Rio Dell and that the Eel River Valley saw “moderate damages to properties.”

  • In Rio Dell, at least 30 homes were severely damaged and one commercial building were officials said.
  • Approximately, 3,400 Rio Dell residents were without water, officials said.
  • Because of leaks, the  city’s water system was shut down for repairs that could last as long as two days.
  • Portable toilets were set up and water was being handed out to residents on Tuesday.

How many aftershocks occurred?

After the initial quake, authorities warned of aftershocks – small earthquakes that hit in the days, months or years in the general area after a major earthquake.

As of early Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey:

  • 16 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks struck after Tuesday’s earthquake near Ferndale.
  • No magnitude 5 or higher aftershocks have been reported, but USGS notes that there’s a 6% to see these stronger aftershocks in the next week.
  • It’s highly likely to see more magnitude 3 aftershocks in the coming week, with estimates of one to 12.

What is an aftershock? Learn about the smaller earthquakes impacting Northern California.  

 5,000 still without power

As of 12:41 p.m. PT Wednesday, fewer than 5,000 customers in Humboldt County are the in the dark, according to PG&E’s online database.

Originally, some 72,000 customers were impacted by the earthquake. More than 50,000 saw their power restored by Wednesday, PG&E Spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian confirmed to USA TODAY.

Amelia Valentin, left, watches as her husband, Jarod, drinks a protein shake inside their apartment after an earthquake in Rio Dell, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. A strong earthquake shook a rural stretch of Northern California early Tuesday, jolting residents awake, cutting off power to thousands of people, and damaging some buildings and a roadway, officials said. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

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PG&E said Wednesday morning that the utility company plans to have nearly all customers restored by mid-afternoon.

Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund and Orlando Mayorquin, USA TODAY. The Associated Press.

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