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Napa's people, buildings hit hard by 6.0 earthquake


NAPA — The largest earthquake to hit the Bay Area in a quarter century struck the North Bay at 3:20 a.m. Sunday morning, injuring nearly 200 people — most in Napa County — while touching off fires that destroyed at least six homes, buckling local roads, and damaging dozens of buildings in Napa and across the region.

The magnitude 6.0 quake, centered about four miles northwest of American Canyon, knocked out power to more than 60,000 people in Napa and Sonoma counties early Sunday and broke dozens of water mains that could leave 600 Napa homes without water for days, according to the city.

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By midday, Gov. Jerry Brown had declared a state of emergency, directing assistance to Napa, which appeared to be the hardest hit across the region. The temblor, which lasted up to 20 seconds in some spots and took place at a depth of 6.7 miles, shook a greater metropolitan area home to 7 million people and was felt as far away as Sacramento and Salinas, about 120 miles away, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The agency estimated that economic losses could be up to $1 billion.

Across the region, the quake jolted residents out of bed, forcing some to flee through dark rooms littered with broken glass and displaced furniture. Others evacuated in the face of flames, with only seconds to grab pets, cellphones and other belongings.

“It blew us out of bed,” said Andre Van Derheyden, a resident of Napa Valley Mobile Home Park, where four homes were destroyed by fire Sunday and two others seriously damaged.

By the time the couple were able to gather their dog and get outside, the mobile home next door was on fire, Van Derheyden said. The resident, a woman, was able to escape, but her home was a total loss.

“Thank heaven we are fine, but I feel so bad for my neighbor,” said Van Derheyden.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa treated about 200 people by Sunday evening, taking in patients through a triage center outside the facility’s front doors. Most suffered cuts from broken glass and bruises from falling objects.

Two people were critically injured, including 14-year-old Nicholas Dillon who was stabilized at the hospital’s triage center before he was flown to UC Davis Medical Center, spokeswoman Vanessa deGier said. The boy, who was in serious condition Sunday night, was injured when a brick fireplace collapsed on him, Napa city spokesman Barry Martin said.

The other seriously injured patient was an adult who suffered multiple fractures, deGier said.

An additional eight patients were treated at St. Helena Hospital to the north in Napa Valley, according to the city of Napa.

The worst damage to buildings appeared to be in downtown Napa and surrounding areas. The quake dealt a significant blow to the city’s efforts to revive its core by renovating historic buildings, many dating to the late 1800s. Among those historic structures, the county’s old courthouse on Brown Street lost a large chunk of exterior masonry and was left with large cracks on the east side of the building.

Main Street’s Pfeiffer Building also suffered heavy damage with bricks falling off the facade, leaving a large pile of debris at its base that spilled onto the sidewalk.

Napa County officials, who declared a local state of emergency Sunday, closed most county buildings, except for some facilities that deal with child and adult welfare, mental and public health.

Public schools in American Canyon, Napa and Yountville will also be closed today, officials said.

To the south, in Solano County, buildings in downtown Vallejo and Mare Island also sustained some structural damage, leaving several with shattered storefront windows and toppled masonry.

The predawn quake came on a key day for summer tourism and events, including the IndyCar Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway and the Santa Rosa Marathon, both of which continued as planned. It also hit in the middle of the region’s grape harvest, when wine tasting draws hundreds of visitors to area wineries and restaurants. The timing of Sunday’s quake, in the predawn hours, likely limited injuries to people who would otherwise have been going about their planned activities.

“The first word that comes to my mind is ‘lucky,’” said Dawn Weeks, who said she and her neighbors in the Alta Heights section of Napa were spared damage. “We’re on bedrock and I only lost a few glasses. My dog woke me up and I got out of bed. It was like a haunted house — the whole place was moving from side to side.”

The temblor was the strongest to rock the area since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck with a magnitude of 6.9 at the start of the evening commute, killing 67 people, injuring more than 3,700 and causing up to $6 billion in damage.

Many of the initial injuries in Sunday’s quake involved people who stepped on broken window glass or busted mirrors, likely as they got out of bed, barefoot, said deGier, the Queen of the Valley spokeswoman.

“We have had people who didn’t realize what they were walking on,” she said.

The earth’s violent movement triggered an nearly endless stream of 911 calls for hours Sunday.

With city emergency crews stretched thin, two firefighting strike teams from Sonoma County headed east within a few hours of the quake, totaling 10 engines, three water trucks and two ambulances. Cal Fire and Napa County cities also sent about 14 engines.

About 27,000 people in the city of Napa and 15,400 in the city of Sonoma lost power, according to PG&E. The outages affected 6,000 customers in west Santa Rosa due to wires down near Piner and Fulton roads, 3,300 customers in Rohnert Park and 4,800 in Sonoma.

Power had been restored in most of Sonoma County by 8 a.m. By 10 p.m., all but 5,300 customers — most in Napa County — had power, according to a PG&E spokeswoman.

Road closures were limited Sunday, with some precautionary closures early in the day to allow for safety inspections. The CHP initially closed stretches of Highway 37 and Highway 121, near Schellville, due to reports of problems. The routes were reopened several hours later. And while there were big cracks left in rural Highway 121, Caltrans workers put up a warning signs and cones and then allowed traffic through the route, said CHP Officer Jon Sloat.

Several streets in central Napa remained closed Sunday, including stretches of First, Second and Third streets. Public works crews fanned out across the region to fix a number of smaller issues, including buckled asphalt and cracked street surfaces throughout the region. Up to 33 buildings in the city of Napa were declared uninhabitable due to damage from the quake. The Napa Senior Center, a residential facility, was among the red-tagged structures, and its tenants were moved Sunday to other locations, including one in Sonoma Valley. A Red Cross evacuation center was opened at Crosswalk Community Church on First Street west of Highway 29.

In Sonoma County, CHP officers were out Sunday checking overcrossings and any other elevated roadways. “They’ve been making sure there are no cracks, no damage,” said Sloat. “There’s nothing major.”

Still, the quake rattled homes and nerves in the county.

Peter and Olivia Leveque felt the shaking in their well-anchored home in the Wikiup area of Santa Rosa, about 30 miles from the epicenter. “The house was rocking back and forth, almost like we were on a boat,” said Peter Leveque, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College biology instructor

Their home rests on a massive concrete foundation with piers 15 to 25 feet into the soil. The structure was unscathed, but the Leveques were a bit shaken. “We didn’t get out of bed,” Leveque said. “We just held onto each other.”

About four dozen aftershocks peppered the Napa Valley in the five hours after the main quake, the largest a magnitude 3.6 at 5:47 a.m., the USGS reported. It warned residents to expect as many as 70 aftershocks over the next seven days. Most will be small, between magnitude 3 and 5, but there is a 54 percent chance of a magnitude 5 or larger aftershock, the USGS said.

Downtown Napa was filled Sunday with business owners, residents, reporters and others who’d come to survey the damage.

Azzurro Pizzeria owner Michael Gyetvan rushed into his downtown restaurant to find water from a fire sprinkler dousing an office with his computer equipment. Cooking pots and pans were scattered about the kitchen and wine bottles in his storage room had been shattered. The restaurant was set to cater a wedding today but had to call it off, Gyetvan said.

“No one died. No one is injured,” he said, speaking about the damage to his business. “We’ll figure it out.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who was in his district over the weekend, said he had contacted Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, and reported that the agency had representatives “on the ground” in Napa County and ready to provide assistance.

The federal government’s role is defined by the monetary value of damage, and Thompson said he did not know the threshold needed to trigger that aid. “It will take a while to get a full assessment,” he said, noting that FEMA and state Office of Emergency Services officials had conducted an aerial survey Sunday.

Historic Sonoma, only 18 miles away from the epicenter, fared better than many cities and towns in the region.

“Everything looks great. The buildings are intact. The bridges are all intact,” said Sonoma fire Capt. Brian Cyr. “With the age of the buildings, it’s impressive we have no structural damage through town.”

Like firefighters and law enforcement throughout much of Sonoma County following the earthquake, Sonoma firefighters immediately were sent running to requests for medical aid, water flow alarms and reports of leaking gas. The calls were handled without major incidents, Cyr said, but they kept emergency responders busy throughout the day.

“We got inundated with 911 calls just like everyone else in the county,” said Petaluma police Sgt. Andrew Urton. “We chased 15 to 20 audible alarms, motion detectors going off, broken glass. None of the alarms were valid.”

Most of the callers were seeking validation of what had happened.

“You wake up from a dead sleep, wonder ‘Hey, did an earthquake actually happen’ and think “I’ll call 911, they’re not busy,’” Urton said.

At the Petaluma police station, among those on duty early Sunday, there was little question of what had happened, Urton said.

“It was rumbling. I haven’t felt something like that in awhile,” he said. “That one went for a long time. It was pretty scary.”

Staff Writers Elizabeth M. Cosin and Guy Kovner contributed to this story.