- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2010

EUREKA, Calif. | Residents of a Northern California county gingerly cleaned up Sunday after the area dodged a catastrophe, escaping a 6.5 magnitude earthquake with little more than bumps, cuts and broken glass.

Eureka’s Bayshore Mall had entrances blocked off as engineers surveyed for damage. Area bridges suffered some bent rails, and local stores reported messy aisles where bottles and jars flew from shelves and shattered, authorities said.

But the Saturday temblor — centered in the Pacific about 22 miles west of Ferndale — caused no major injuries, only limited structural damage and just a few hours where thousands of residents were without power.

“I think we can attribute some of this to being prepared,” Humboldt County spokesman Phil Smith-Hanes said. “Folks in this area are used to living in earthquake country.”

The quake’s location — offshore, deep under the ocean and away from urban areas — helped the region escape relatively unscathed what could have been a major disaster. A quake of similar size — 6.7 magnitude — killed 72 people and caused $25 billion in damage in 1994 in the Los Angeles area.

Rick Littlefield, owner of Eureka Natural Foods, said earthquakes are “part of the rules of the game up here.”

The quake left some of the grocery store’s aisles ankle-deep in broken bottles, jars and spilled goods, a loss Mr. Littlefield estimated at about $20,000. But the shelves were bolted in place, so they didn’t topple. A generator kept power going.

Power outages were widespread, affecting about 25,000 customers initially, but a quick response restored electricity to all by early Sunday morning, said David Eisenhauer, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The utility company was surveying gas lines by helicopter and on foot, but no leaks had been reported, Mr. Eisenhauer said. The company’s former nuclear power plant outside Eureka did not suffer any damage.

California Department of Transportation crews out surveying roads and bridges, first by flashlight and then in daylight, had found no significant damage and no accidents attributed to the quake by Sunday morning, said Stan Woodman, Caltrans maintenance manager for the district encompassing Humboldt County.

Mr. Woodman felt the quake at his home in McKinleyville — “It was rocking and rolling,” he said. But the only consequences for transportation infrastructure have been some bent rails on bridges and slight settling by an inch or two of approach ramps, he said.

Emergency room doctors at Eureka’s St. Joseph Hospital stayed busy Saturday night. Several people showed up with cuts and bruises, with the most serious injury being to an elderly patient who fell and broke a hip, said Laurie Watson-Stone, a spokeswoman for the 146-bed hospital.

But no major injuries were reported overnight, in spite of several aftershocks that rumbled through the region for several hours, some with magnitude as high as 4.5.

When the temblor hit Saturday afternoon, there were about 150 people shopping at Mr. Littlefield’s store.

“A lot of customers freaked,” he said Sunday morning. “People just dropped what they had — in the checkstand even. People who were in the middle of a transaction just bailed and left their stuff.”

But no one was hurt, and damage was limited to some easy-to-fix cracks on the floor. Mr. Littlefield kept his sense of humor as he tried to tackle the sticky mess in the shampoo and juice aisles with a wet/dry vacuum that was soon overflowing with bubbles.

At least, he said, “it smelled really good.”

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