"It was the most intense earthquake that I've felt," Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes said. "It was a long-duration earthquake, so it was not only significant in size at 6.4, but it was also long."
The epicenter of the quake, which occurred at 2:34 a.m. PT, was in the Pacific about 15 miles from Fortuna, part of California's forested Redwood Coast. Fortuna is near Eureka and about a 280-mile drive northwest of Sacramento.
A 72-year-old and an 83-year-old were reported dead "as a result of medical emergencies" during and after the earthquake. Emergency services couldn't reach the victims in a timely manner, according to Humboldt County Sheriff William F. Honsal.
In Rio Dell, Garnes said about 60 emergency calls came through in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Local government officials are also expecting about 50 to 150 people to be displaced by the earthquake.
Following the tremor, building inspectors moved through the city to check the structural integrity of houses and other structures.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area, allowing Humboldt County to access resources under the California Disaster Assistance Act.
Newsom also directed state agencies and departments to take appropriate action as necessary to provide support to local communities – including the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to ensure the safety of roadways; the California Highway Patrol to protect public safety; the California Department of Public Health and Emergency Medical Services Authority to assist local hospitals; and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to help address any possible additional emergencies. (Related: Catastrophic earthquake overdue for California, geologists warn: Are you prepared yet?)
"Our biggest issues are no electricity and no water. Structural damage is the next thing on the list," Garnes said. "Our water system got really wrecked. So many leaks."
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Rio Dell Police Chief Greg Allen said it could possibly take up to two days for water service to be restored.
According to Rio Dell's city services website, the "Rio Dell water system serves approximately 1,450 customers and consists of a network of water mains, valves and storage tanks that deliver treated water from the plant located at 475 Hilltop Drive to water customers."
The sheriff's office issued a boil water advisory for the city and parts of Fortuna. The notice indicated the advisory would be in effect for up to 48 hours.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of homes and businesses along the Northern California coast remained without power on Tuesday evening.
Damages to buildings and infrastructure were still being assessed. Two Humboldt County hospitals lost power and were running on generators, according to Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
Sen. Mike McGuire said there was one confirmed structure fire in Rio Dell following the quake that was already put out. It also caused some damage to Fernbridge, a Humboldt County landmark built in 1911 on State Route 211 that has survived past earthquakes and floods.
"I've issued a $6 million emergency director's order to the District 1 director in that area to bring a contractor on board as quickly as possible," Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said. "They are currently mobilizing their equipment and their resources and personnel to actually be on site later today and begin the reconstruction work on that bridge. Most likely we will shore that bridge and get it ready and open to the public and traffic and then commence with the final repairs to the bridge."
Also, at least 15 homes were severely damaged and deemed uninhabitable and 18 others were moderately damaged, as per the partial assessment of officials. They estimated that 30 people were displaced and said that number could rise to 150 after a full tally of damage.
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Check out the podcast below that talks about the earthquake that rocked Northern California.
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