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Two people dead after 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Humboldt County

A road with a barrier on the side, the sign on the barrier says "Eel River, 04-0134" The road is buckled and cracked from an earthquake
State Route 211 near Ferndale, damaged from Tuesday morning's earthquake

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked parts of Humboldt County in Northern California at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Updated Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m.

According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s office, there is widespread damage to roads and homes throughout the county, especially around the communities of Ferndale, Fortuna and Rio Dell in the Eel River Valley.

During a press conference in the City of Rio Dell on Tuesday afternoon, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said two people died in connection with the early morning earthquake.

“Their medical emergency happened at the moment of the earthquake,” Honsal said. “EMS could not get there in time, and so we couldn’t deliver them to the proper facility, so our hearts and prayers go out to their families.”

Honsal added at least a dozen additional residents have been injured.

Rio Dell was the community most affected. Emergency personnel are evaluating home destruction and trying to fix the city’s inoperable water system.

The quake occurred about 14 miles southwest of Fortuna, according to the USGS, however there is no risk of tsunami activity. There have been over 50 aftershocks since the 2:30 a.m. earthquake.

A map showing the range of the earthquake in Humboldt County, the epicenter was just off the coast west of Rio Dell
California Integrated Seismic Network
U.S. Geological Survey
The impact area of the earthquake. The epicenter was just off the coast southwest of Ferndale.

The main arterial into Ferndale, the historic Fernbridge, is closed because of cracks in four places, according to the California Highway Patrol. There is no estimated reopening time.

“Sometimes we get east to west earthquakes,” said Dennis Leonardi, a longtime Ferndale resident. “This was north-south, and they seem to be sharp, abrupt and they really do damage. Empty shelves, cracked foundations and all kinds of stuff. I think the damage on this one is gonna be significant.”

Leonardi operates a 400-cow organic dairy. He was out of town during the earthquake, but came home early Tuesday morning to see the damage.

"All our parts and stuff are on the ground, and there's broken water lines guys are trying to fix. The backup power is on. Ferndale has got cracked windows and no power anywhere, and it looks just ugly," he said.

“In my home there’s lots of broken things,” said Eureka resident Andrea Pedley. “Broken glassware and all the paintings in the house are askew. No major damage but there’s a lot of cleanup out in my garage. I talked with a friend down in Loleta, which is near Ferndale, and she has a lot of damage.”

Over 70,000 residents were without power as of 3:00 p.m., according to emergency managers. Pacific Gas & Electric estimates power will be restored for the majority of those affected by 10 p.m. Tuesday night.

The City of Eureka has set up a "charging center" at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, located at 1120 F St. It will operate until 5:00 p.m.

The Cal Poly Humboldt campus has been closed, except to essential personnel. University staff are working to restore basic operations, including assessing infrastructure and building conditions. The timeline is unknown for restoration of phone, internet, and security systems.

Resources for those affected in Humboldt County include:

Andrea Pedley is a member of the JPR Foundation Board of Directors

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.
Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.