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Days before Christmas, residents in Humboldt County, California come together on earthquake recovery

Resident Christine Holland comforting her son while getting food and water at the Rio Dell fire station. (Courtesy of Ryan Burns)
Resident Christine Holland comforting her son while getting food and water at the Rio Dell fire station. (Courtesy of Ryan Burns)

One of the small towns hit hardest by this week’s big earthquake in Northern California is still deep in recovery mode.

Rio Dell sits along the beautiful and rural Redwood Coast in Humboldt County, about a five-hour drive north of San Francisco. Some homes there are now uninhabitable. And for days, many residents have been trying to get by with little to no cell phone service.

Ryan Burns, a reporter for the news site The Lost Coast Outpost, says the earthquake brought a lesson in preparedness for the whole state.

“We didn’t expect a quake of this size to hit any community this hard,” he says. “But a big problem has been the lack of telecommunications, which is a big problem after an emergency like this.”

Interview Highlights

On what is known so far about the earthquake

“We live in a very active area for earthquakes. There’s what’s called the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three plates come together off the coast of Humboldt County here. So we’re not unused to earthquakes, but this one, it felt a lot stronger, possibly because it was more shallow.

“Power went out countywide to about 70,000 customers. But Rio Dell has had the hardest time recovering. They still have more than 3,000 people without running water, many still without power. And, a number of buildings fell off their foundations and have been deemed uninhabitable by building inspectors.”

On reported deaths and injuries 

Two people died and they had medical emergencies. And because of the earthquake and the emergency response, they weren’t able to get medical care in time. Another 17 people were injured. Somebody suffered a broken hip. Another person had a head injury.”

On how this earthquake was like a freight train 

That’s exactly how one woman I interviewed described it. And the residents of Rio Dell are struggling to get by without running water. They’ve had to rely on supplies that have been donated there. Emergency responders are arranging portable showers and toilets. But because Rio Dell is classified as a severely economically disadvantaged community by the state, people are already pretty vulnerable.

“One family I spoke with, they live in a low income apartment complex where they’re not allowed to use generators. They’re not even allowed to bring candles into their apartment. And making matters worse, they have a four-year-old son who has a rare medical condition and they need to keep his medications cold. And they were unable to do that without ice and without electricity.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Locke also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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