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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

California town rattled by earthquake a second time

Judy Ingraham surveyed the damage to her shed after an earthquake in Rio Dell, Calif.

By José Quezada, Steven Moity and Ollie Hancock

The first jolt came days before Christmas, in the middle of the night, shaking residents awake, toppling walls and cracking roads. The town was still recovering from that 6.4-magnitude earthquake when they got another, this time on a sunny, otherwise quiet New Year’s Day.

At 10:35 a.m., a 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck the Northern California town again, causing more damage to roads and homes and fraying nerves further.

“It’s a new year, there’s no clouds, it’s not raining. And boom, just when you think you’re in recovery, it’s back to response,” said Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes. People were tired, but their generosity was not tapped out, she added: They showed up with mattresses, water and cleaning supplies from the community and across California.

Around town, residents were picking up the pieces, again.

“Everything is on the floor,” said Cynthia Dobereiner, who had reordered her house after the first quake less than two weeks ago. This one caused “way more damage” despite being smaller, she added. She worried about a new crack that had emerged in one of her walls.

She also vowed not to put anything back on a high shelf. “Everything is going to be ground level. All our food, our pots and our pans — nothing is going above the second shelf.” At least this time, she said, her refrigerator stayed shut. “A week ago, my fridge flew open and everything went flying,” she said.

Officials didn’t report any deaths or serious injuries and said Sunday that they were assessing the damage. State Sen. Mike McGuire said on Twitter that some structures were damaged and that the city was conducting tests of the water system. The earlier quake had left two people dead, injured a dozen and damaged 95 homes in the area, 25 of them severely.

The effects of the first quake were so fresh that officials from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services were still in town to help with that response.

Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for that office, said the teams already on the ground will help the recovery effort move more swiftly.

People in the region “just went through the most traumatic moment of their lives,” with the first quake less than two weeks ago, said Andrew Bogar, a regional program manager for the Red Cross. Sunday’s quake wasn’t as big as the last one but was prompting “a lot of anxiety about going back into their homes,” he said.

The first quake had cracked and closed Fernbridge, a historic arched bridge that connects the neighboring city of Ferndale to Eureka, Humboldt County’s largest city, across the Eel River. The bridge was repaired and reopened, only to be closed again Sunday for safety inspections, according to the California Department of Transportation. The bridge reopened by Sunday evening.

Thirty calls for emergency services came within the first two hours after the quake struck, fire officials said. Other fire departments were called in to help. As of Sunday afternoon, about 30% of the town was without water, and half were without power, officials said. Some homes had been damaged.

“There are new houses off their foundations,” Rio Dell Fire Chief Shane Wilson said. The damage for this quake seems to be a little more spread out in the central and eastern part of town rather than concentrated in the northern part of town, as with the last quake, he said.

The quake is considered an aftershock of the Dec. 20 earthquake, said Rafael Abreu Paris, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist. Aftershocks — typically lesser-magnitude quakes than the first major one — are normal after a big earthquake, seismologists say. But even a moderate-size or smaller quake can feel violent and cause damage depending on its location, depth and type.

The Dec. 20 quake led to a series of offshore aftershocks, Paris said. More than 50 aftershocks followed the December earthquake, including a large one — with a magnitude of 4.6 — about 5 minutes later.

Sunday’s tremor was part of a different cluster of inland aftershocks but occurred in the same tectonic process, he said. More aftershocks are possible.

Jason Freitas, a local resident, said the intensity of Sunday’s quake felt familiar. “It was very similar to the earthquake we just had,” he said. “It violently shook everything off the walls.” The difference, he said, was that his apartment sustained more damage this time. When it happened, he threw on a shirt and ran outside. “It was very part and parcel of living in California, really.”

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