The powerful earthquake that struck the northern California coast Saturday didn’t yield a tsunami or kill anybody, thank goodness. At Redwood National and State Parks, as elsewhere in the region, nobody was injured and property damage was slight. But as they say, it isn’t over until it’s over.
Residents of the seismically-active northern California coast are aware that earthquakes can cause massive property damage, injuries, and deaths in their area at any time, and without as much as a moment’s warning. Near the shoreline, concerns are compounded by the possibility of fearsomely destructive tsunamis that can be triggered even by faraway quakes. On March 27, 1964, a 9.2 quake (8.4 Richter scale) centered in the Gulf of Alaska made Crescent City ground zero for the most damaging earthquake ever to strike the U.S. mainland, a maelstrom that took out 30 city blocks, destroyed or damaged nearly 300 homes, and left 11 people dead. No, people on the northern California coast most emphatically do not take earthquake hazards lightly.
Earthquake and tsunami readiness is serious business at Redwood National and State Parks, too. The park headquarters in Crescent City is situated in the central business district at an intersection whose previously existing structures were demolished by the 1964 tsunami. The southern headquarters of this fragmented, elongated, coast-hugging park are located in the coastal town of Orick (about 35 miles north of Eureka), and the park also shares some office space in Arcata. Small wonder that Redwood National and State Parks recently became the first unit in the entire National Park System to be certified tsunami ready.
On Saturday, January 9, a 6.5 temblor centered within 30 miles of Arcata gave a large area of the northern California and southern Oregon coast a good shaking. Given the earthquake and tsunami history of the region, it’s easy to appreciate that residents described the effects as “scary,” even if property damage was minimal and there were no deaths or serious injuries.
According to a report submitted by Leonel Arguello, Supervisory Botanist at Redwood:
Many [park] employees who work in Orick and Arcata live in communities around Humboldt Bay, which were most impacted by the quake. The office buildings in both Orick and Arcata suffered no structural damage from the quake. Two computer servers, one each in Arcata and Orick, were damaged, though, with one needing to be replaced. The other was repaired. Two computers that were operating during the quake were also damaged. One, a laptop, was damaged beyond repair, as the ground motion damaged the internal components (i.e. motherboard). The other was repaired and is back in service.
People living and working in the area nearest the quake’s epicenter were shocked by the severity of the shaking. This, the most powerful quake to hit the area since 1992, was a real attention-grabber.
The quake had varying impacts on employees living in the area near the epicenter. Those in Eureka almost unanimously reported this quake to be very severe and extremely frightening – and many of them have lived most of their lives in California and are no strangers to earthquakes. Most if not all the employees living in Eureka suffered material damage within their homes, with items flying off shelves or toppling over onto the floor. One reported finding all of her kitchen knives spread out on the floor throughout her kitchen, having been ejected from the knife block in which they were stored. Fortunately, none of these employees or their family members were injured, nor did any report structural damage to their property.
Farther away in Arcata and McKinleyville, park employees reported the shaking as being scary, but not as severe as what has been described in Eureka. For folks in these communities, hardly any items toppled over and damage was minimal to non-existent.
The absence of a destructive tsunami added an extra measure of “dodged the bullet” relief. Tsunamis are triggered by sea floor displacement, and that did not happen in this instance because the movement along the fault was horizontal (strike-slip variety) rather than vertical.
It would be nice to close the book on this one, but that would be premature. Big quakes tend to be followed by one or more strong aftershocks, and seismologists say that there are about four chances in five of that happening. For residents of the northern California and southern Oregon coast, it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.