Preparedness & Recovery

Earthquake in Napa, Calif., Leaves Widespread Damage

The magnitude 6.0 earthquake was the largest to hit the San Francisco Bay area since the devastating 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta quake in 1989.

by Peter Hecht, Sam Stanton and Darrell Smith, The Sacramento Bee / August 24, 2014
Dan Kavarian, chief building official for the city of Napa, walks around the downtown area red tagging buildings that were deemed unsafe after a 6.0 earthquake hit the area on Aug. 24, 2014. (Rick Loomis/ Los Angeles Times/MCT)

(MCT) — A predawn earthquake rattled Napa, Calif., early Sunday morning, critically injuring at least three people as the shaking ripped facades and shattered windows from historic downtown buildings, toppled chimneys and ignited gas fires at mobile home parks.

Countless residents fled into darkened streets as the result of the quake, measured at magnitude 6.0 by the United States Geological Survey. It was the largest to hit the San Francisco Bay area since the devastating 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.

The Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa reported 120 people seeking treatment soon after the quake. They included a small child who was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center with critical injuries authorities attributed to a collapsed chimney.

Two adults also were listed in critical condition, including one who suffered a heart attack and another with multiple fractures after the 3:20 a.m. quake, said hospital spokeswoman Vanessa Degier. Later Sunday, three more patients were admitted in fair to serious condition, including two patients suffering from fractured hips and another with a fractured ankle.

The hospital set up an emergency triage tent shortly after the quake and summoned doctors, surgeons, nurses and other support staff. Many people who didn’t require hospitalization were treated for cuts and lacerations, often from stepping on glass or broken objects after being shaken out of bed. More injuries occurred as people were cleaning out damaged structures, hospital officials said.

“The operation rooms are up and running,” said Walt Mickens, CEO of Queen of the Valley. “Our community has responded in an extraordinary fashion to a significant event.”

At least three fires, blamed on gas line ruptures, broke out this morning. The worst destroyed four homes and damaged two others at the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park on Orchard Avenue. Fires also damaged a mobile home on Robin Lane and a single-family residences on Napa’s Laurel Street, said city manager Barry Martin.

Utility crews were rushing to repair more than 50 gas line breaks, and a fire that erupted after the quake destroyed four mobile homes and set two on fire in north Napa. Officials also reported about 60 water main leaks and said some areas were left with low or no water pressure. Water remained safe to drink, officials said.

Napa Public Works Director Jack LaRochelle said assessment teams were sent to inspect quake damage and identify buildings that were deemed structurally unsafe. City Manager Mike Parness said at least 15 buildings were red tagged as uninhabitable and that “there have been numerous buildings that have been yellow tagged” - meaning people are allowed limited access to make them safe.

The city reported structural damage at the Napa County Courthouse, an unreinforced masonry structure that bore cracks and a huge gash from fallen timber and bricks. Two historic downtown buildings, the Goodman Library and Sam Kee Laundry, were reported damaged.

With the clean-up beginning in downtown, people were greeted with bright yellow police tape and sounds of swept debris and shattered glass. At the Torc Restaurant on Main Street, mounds of broken china were piled on the floor. Wine bottles and glasses tossed by the temblor were strewn across the bar.

“Nobody was hurt,” said chef and owner Sean O’Toole. “Good thing it was 3:30 a.m.,” when the quake struck “and not 11:30 when we were open for lunch or later when we were open for dinner and it was even more busy.”

O’Toole credited the seismic retrofitting his building underwent in the historic downtown for the relative lack of damage. Other older buildings nearby fared much worse, their brick facades crumbled onto the street.

As the morning wore on Sunday, the curious, residents and tourists alike, flooded into the downtown to take stock of the quake damage and the satellite trucks that encamped on street corners. Piles of rubble spread out from the building that is home to the Carpe Diem wine bar at Second and Brown streets, a section of the third floor coming to rest as bricks on the streets below.

Some of Napa’s renowned wineries reported losses of precious stock as wine bottles smashed and broke open, splashing out in burgundy hues. Just outside town, bottles of acclaimed single-vine wines flew off shelves to the floor at the famed Silver Oak Napa Winery in Oakville. “We’re doing our best to pick up the pieces,” said Ian Leggat, the winery’s marketing director, who said some vintage single-vine wines were lost.

The Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the Napa High School Gym, later moving it to Crosswalk Community Church.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state-of-emergency order and said emergency personnel began work shortly after the quake.

“These public safety officials are doing all they can to help residents, and those living in affected areas should follow their guidance and instruction,” Brown said in a statement.

The governor reported in his emergency proclamation that the quake had caused “structural damage to public and private buildings,” toppled power lines and left 69,000 residents in the region without electricity.

Kelly Huston, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Services, said officials from multiple state agencies were coming to the region to inspect critical infrastructure, including making safety checks on dams and water and power distribution systems.

“The major challenge is the unknown,” Huston said. “It’s the damage that we haven’t identified yet.”

Residents in the surrounding area recounted suddenly being tossed about as the temblor struck just before 3:30 a.m.

“No pun intended, I’m actually pretty shaken up,” said carpenter Tim Park, who was at his brother’s American Canyon home when the quake hit. “It was violent.

“I wasn’t here for Loma Prieta, but this was one of the most violent things I’ve experienced.”

Park, 36, said he was planning on going fishing with his brother at 4 a.m. and was already awake when he felt “10 to 15 seconds of pure shaking” and heard a cacophonous roar.

“It sounded like the world was ending, it was so incredibly loud, like a big boom,” he said. “And it wouldn’t stop. That was the weird thing.

“It was so bizarre because I kind of felt a jolt, and then it started shaking, and it built in intensity, and then it started tailing off. It seemed like forever. Obviously, being in it, it seemed way, way longer.”

The force of the quake knocked pictures and photos off the walls, and toppled bookcases throughout the house, including one that landed on his brother’s wife in bed, he said.

“She got a golf-ball-sized lump on her shoulder,” Park said.

“Everything fell, all the pictures on the walls came off, everything in the kitchen cabinets, there were broken glasses everywhere,” Park said. “All the drywall popped at the corners.”

The quake’s epicenter is estimated to be near where Park was staying, and he said residents streamed out into the darkened streets to shut off gas and water mains and survey the damage.

The quake sent safety crews scrambling to inspect roadways, bridges, rail lines and other areas.

Napa Valley police operations Captain Steve Potter said many of the region’s tourist attractions, including local inns and hotels and wineries, remained open “with business as normal.” But he advised tourists to call to confirm reservations and check in with wineries. Local residents and visitors also were advised to stay away from downtown Napa “and dangerous areas where there is broken glass and brick and mortar on the ground,” Potter said.

Police said there were no reports of looting but announced that officers would maintain a high presence downtown for the next several days.

The California Highway Patrol reported road damage in several areas, but said all highways were open and that damaged areas were cordoned off with cones. The CHP reported no damage to Bay Area bridges and said all remain open.

“All are safe for vehicle travel,” the CHP reported on Twitter.

The Altamont Corridor Express scrapped plans to run a special train to Levi’s Stadium for today’s San Francisco 49ers-San Diego Chargers game. Ticket holders would be reimbursed for the train fare. The Capitol Corridor line also suspended service between Roseville and San Jose, pending inspection of the tracks.

The IndyCar events at Sonoma Raceway also were to be held as scheduled Sunday, race officials said, after the track was determined to be undamaged by the quake.

Some residents said they felt aftershocks Sunday morning, but none as severe as the main quake, which has been named the South Napa earthquake.

The quake was felt from Sacramento to San Francisco, where 23-year-old Emily Hawkins had awakened just before it hit.

“Basically, I woke up three minutes before the earthquake,” she said. “It was a good, four- or five-second earthquake.

“I just laid in bed; it’s only my second earthquake I’ve ever experienced.”

Hawkins said she works at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco and that the store and its contents were undamaged, unlike many other grocers nearer the epicenter who saw entire shelves collapse.

©2014 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.