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Napa residents wake up after ferocious jolt feeling powerless

  • Parking structures crushed cars after they collapsed at Charter Oaks Apartments during a 6.0 earthquake in on Sunday, August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

NAPA — Lorraine Balbi’s world crashed down around her in the darkness.

Hearing her neighbor screaming her name after being jolted awake, the 67-year-old woman pulled herself out of bed to go to the door. She opened it to the sickening sight of flames from a broken gas pipe licking the side of her mobile home.

“I went back for my dog and my cellphone. Then I got out,” Balbi said.

Napa Damage From 6.0 Earthquake

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She and the dog, Georgie, managed to escape the fire before it destroyed the home. Three other homes burned to the ground at the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park in the aftermath of Sunday’s magnitude-6.0 temblor, which in an instant visited nighttime terror on this city of 80,000.

Despite its reputation as a relatively peaceful Wine Country destination, Napa has not been immune to disaster, including devastating floods and earthquakes that sparked renewed calls to retrofit buildings to current seismic standards. But in the aftermath of Sunday’s quake, city officials red-tagged nearly three dozen buildings, essentially declaring them too dangerous to enter, at least until an inspection is conducted. That development is likely to spark more discussion about how best to address earthquake risk.

Sunday’s 3:20 a.m. temblor struck with a ferocity many said paralyzed them in their own beds. They described the initial jolt stunning them awake, but then feeling too frightened and powerless to do anything until the shaking finally stopped several terrifying seconds later.

“I thought either I’m going to die in bed, or it’s going to stop. I couldn’t move,” said Napa Fire Capt. Steve Becker, who was asleep at Napa’s downtown fire station when the earthquake struck.

About 45 minutes later, Becker had donned his fire gear and was leading emergency personnel at the Orchard Avenue mobile home park west of Highway 29 where several fires forced the evacuation of hundreds into a temporary shelter at the park’s clubhouse.

Several miles to the west, 90-year-old Ben Ferro felt blood begin to ooze from a wound on his head after the earthquake struck and a dresser tipped over on him. The decorated war veteran, who earned a Purple Heart after he was shot in battle, said he thought his northwest Napa home had “blown up.”

A neighbor drove Ferro and his wife to Queen of the Valley Medical Center, where his head wound was bandaged and he was sent home.


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