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California escapes major earthquake damage

The town of Eureka in Northern California has started cleaning-up following a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that hit on Saturday, with only limited structural damage on local infrastructure.

Bridge rails were bent and shops reported messy aisles where bottles and jars flew from shelves and shattered, and the entrances to Eureka’s Bayshore Mall were blocked as engineers surveyed for damage.

“We’re very, very fortunate that it’s not worse, but there is a lot of damage,” Rep Mike Thompson said at a press conference. “This is a big deal.”

The Saturday afternoon quake - centred in the Pacific west of Ferndale - caused only limited structural damage and a few hours of power cuts. There were no major injuries, other than an elderly resident’s fractured hip.

A preliminary estimate of damage in Eureka came to £8M, said the city’s fire chief, Eric Smith.

Agencies and residents were earthquake-ready, with plans in place and awareness of safety measures such as not hanging heavy things on walls.

That helped avert destruction and panic and sped along the recovery, officials said.

“I think we can attribute some of this to being prepared,” said Humboldt County spokesman Phil Smith-Hanes. “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 - also helped the region escape relatively unscathed what could have been a major disaster. In 1994 a quake of similar size - 6.7 magnitude - killed 72 people and caused £15.6bn of damage in the Los Angeles area.

An earthquake analyst with the US Geological Survey said that while earthquakes could not be predicted, a series would generally start with the largest tremor, then taper in size and frequency.

Several aftershocks struck the region, some with a magnitude as high as 4.1.

“Almost always we see this pattern where they taper off,” said Don Blakeman of the USGS.

The quake happened at the intersection of three plates - the Pacific, the North American and the Gorda.

Rick Littlefield, owner of Eureka Natural Foods, said earthquakes were “part of the rules of the game up here”. Shelves at his shop were bolted in place.

When the quake hit, about 150 people were shopping, he said. “A lot of customers freaked,” he said. “People just dropped what they had - in the checkstand (check-out counter) even. People who were in the middle of a transaction just bailed and left their stuff.”

Power cuts were widespread, affecting about 36,000 customers initially, but a quick response restored electricity to all by yesterday, said Janna Morris, a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric.

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