Earthquake News

The 30th Anniversary of the Earthquake in Cape Mendocino

A magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Petrolia thirty years ago, shaking the ground with the greatest accelerations ever observed in California. It was the first of three severe temblors that would shock the region over the course of 24 hours.To commemorate this anniversary, the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group has launched a new website with a film called "A Virtual Tour of  Mendocino Triple Crossroads".
Meanwhile, here's a look back at a 2017 Journal feature commemorating the quake's silver anniversary, as well as the stories readers contributed about their recollections from 1992.  


Humboldt was rattled for two days.

Twenty-five years have gone since the Cascadia subduction zone sent a far-reaching message — a magnitude-7.2 earthquake that shook the ground with a ferocity never before recorded in California — on April 25, 1992.
At 11:06 a.m., the streets began to pitch and roll as windows cracked, houses were thrown off their foundations, and a 15-mile-long stretch of shoreline near Petrolia was thrown several feet into the air, trapping tidepool creatures above the reach of the ocean.  
The Eel River Valley floor dropped as a result of the same action.
Mother Nature, on the other hand, was not finished yet. Two severe aftershocks — a 6.5 and a 6.6 — followed a series of weaker ones the next morning. It felt as if the earth would never stop shaking, according to some who witnessed it.
Despite the fact that the quakes shook nerves, caused more than $60 million in damage, and injured nearly 100 people, just a small portion of the Cascadia subduction zone erupted that day.  


According to Lori Dengler, a geology professor at Humboldt State University who was in her McKinleyville home when the first quake struck, the result could have been a magnitude-8 or even a magnitude-9 quake if the rupture had continued further along the 600-mile mega thrust fault that runs from Cape Mendocino to Vancouver  “It was more of a wake-up call,” he recalls, “but no matter how you look at it, we were extraordinarily lucky.I believe it is our responsibility to put Mother Nature's  graces into action and  be ready when the greatest comes.
While only a tiny number of geologists and seismologists were aware of the Cascadia subduction zone's potential before to 1992, grim warnings about the fault's capabilities have subsequently been covered by major newspapers such as the New York Times and The Atlantic.  One of the most significant developments after the  Cape Mendocino earthquake has been the general awareness of the near shore tsunami threat that lies off the west coast. Immediately after the quake ended in 1992, a small tremor hit, shattering the long-held notion that the threat would come from afar, with hours of warning.


That insight paved the way for the National Tsunami Mitigation Hazard Program, as well as the contemporary mapping, hazard modeling, warning, and education systems that are presently in place.  Dengler says, "Mother Nature has really been extremely good to us.“We had an earthquake which caused  damage but no one was killed. It boosted awareness, and we are now far more prepared than we were in 1992.
The devastating quakes not only changed the world's perception of what the collision of tectonic plates off our coast is capable of, but they also left an everlasting impact on our landscape and those who were caught in the crossfire.  
Some of their tales are told below.


The Nerves on Wedding Day
When the Earth began to tremble, I was waiting outdoors for the bride and groom to arrive for their lovely outdoor wedding ceremony. I stood there, attempting to retain my balance because there was no doorway or table to hide behind. As soon as I raised my eyes, the bride dashed out of the old Victorian mansion she was getting ready in, bra and petticoat in hand! Even though I was only ten at the time, it's a memory I'll never forget.


Plan Shift - Catherine Barnes
With the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake still fresh in our thoughts, I continued to live in Martinez (Contra Costa County), while my daughter was a student at HSU at the time, living off-campus in a second-floor apartment on Erie Street in Eureka.   I'd traveled up on Friday for a relaxing weekend with my girlfriends. The first (7.2) earthquake struck just as we were getting ready to leave for the day.
It took us about a nanosecond to figure out what was going on, as third and fourth generation Californians.And we did exactly what you're not allowed to do: we flew up and down the steps, literally none of us remember doing it. When it hit, we were talking face to face/eye to eye, and the next thing we knew, we were in the parking lot.
I remember being perplexed by the seemingly inordinately long time it took for any information to reach me over the radio, given that this was clearly not your typical California earthquake.  
But here's what we learned: not only did that weekend's event cure both of us of ever sleeping naked again, but we also slept in our glasses for almost two years!

'I could see the ground rolling,' says the Caty Tobin.
On Saturday, April 25, around 11 a.m., I was alone and driving to Eureka. I felt like I was having a flat tire just before the Slough Bridge. I swerved to the right and discovered that my tires were good, but the ground was the issue. My tiny Honda Accord hatchback began to shake violently back and forth to the point where I believed it may flip over. I could see the ground rolling like ocean waves, a totally bizarre occurrence that seemed to go on forever! After the shaking subsided a little, I drove over the bridge rapidly but cautiously. It was so horrible that I expected it all (the whole thing).
The light poles were still swaying back and forth at this moment. The windows were vibrating so loudly that I could see the glass moving in waves and was afraid they would all break (they didn't). I had no way of notifying anyone because cell phones were still a couple of decades away from being commonplace, so I had to drive back to McKinleyville without knowing how much danger I was in.   There was no way of knowing how large the quake was, no method of communicating with friends or family, and no way of knowing how the buildings and people in my life fared during what I knew would be the largest earthquake of my lifetime.  


As I traveled, I kept an eye out for any signs of a tsunami on the bay and checked for wreckage at each building I passed. It was certainly the most terrifying experience of my life. I had never liked earthquakes before, but this one (and the two that followed later that night) instilled in me a very (un)healthy dread that I still have to this day. Ugh!   It was five weeks before my wedding, and I remember being afraid as I kneeled at the altar in St. Bernard's, looking at the walls and ceiling, hoping to God that we wouldn't have another one.


'Like Elephants on the Roof,' says Allison Curtis.
Mom was at a Scottish dancing company that practiced in the main room of the huge tan Presbyterian Church on 11th in Arcata, and I was 8 years old. When the earthquake struck, I recall hearing rumbling and creaking, like if elephants were dancing about on the roof. My brother and I were playing in the Sunday school room when Mom called us out. We dashed out, noticing the large chandeliers swaying overhead, and then proceeded to the parking lot behind the church to join all of the Scottish dancers. We had some powerful aftershocks there that were really unsettling. A truly unforgettable tremor!


Nick Jones: 'I'll Never Forget It'
Car alarms started going off as I rode my bike home from Marshall Elementary, and it felt like I was riding on waves. Because I was too terrified to ride my bike home, I fell from my bike and hailed down a stranger to drive me home. Those were the days when you could get into the car of a stranger. I was just ten years old at the time! It's something I'll never forget.

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