The San Francisco Bay Area’s strongest earthquake in 25 years struck the heart of California’s wine country early Sunday, igniting gas-fed fires, damaging some of the region’s famed wineries and historic buildings, and sending dozens of people to hospitals.
The magnitude-6.0 quake, centered near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills of northern California, ruptured water mains and gas lines, hampering firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes that broke out after the temblor struck at 3:20 a.m.
Dazed residents who had run out of their homes in the dark and were too fearful of aftershocks to go back to bed wandered through Napa’s historic downtown, where boulder-sized chunks of rubble and broken glass littered the streets. Dozens of homes and buildings across the Napa Valley were left unsafe to occupy, including an old county courthouse, where a 10-foot wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.
College student Eduardo Rivera said the home he shares with six relatives shook so violently that he kept getting knocked back into his bed as he tried to flee.
“When I woke up, my mom was screaming, and the sound from the earthquake was greater than my mom’s screams,” the 20-year-old Rivera said.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for southern Napa County, directing state agencies to respond with equipment and personnel. President Barack Obama was briefed on the earthquake, the White House said, and federal officials were in touch with state and local emergency responders.
The temblor struck about six miles south of Napa and lasted 10 to 20 seconds, according to the United States Geological Survey. It was the largest to shake the San Francisco Bay Area since the magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta quake struck in 1989, collapsing part of the Bay Bridge roadway and killing more than 60 people, most when an Oakland freeway collapsed.
Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, where an outdoor triage tent was set up to handle the influx, reported treating 172 people in the emergency room, although hospital officials could not say how many of them were there for bruises and cuts suffered in the quake and how many for more routine injuries and illnesses.
Twelve people were admitted for broken bones, heart attacks and other problems directly related to the earthquake, including an adult who remained in critical condition on Sunday night and a 13-year-old boy.
The teen was hit by flying debris from a collapsed fireplace and had to be airlifted to the children’s hospital at the University of California Davis hospital for a neurological evaluation. He condition was listed as serious, hospital spokeswoman Phyllis Brown said.
Napa Fire Department Operations Chief John Callanan said the city had exhausted its own resources trying to extinguish at least six fires after 60 water mains ruptured, as well as transporting injured residents, searching homes and collapsed carports for anyone trapped and responding to 100 reports of leaking gas.
Two of the fires happened at mobile home parks, including the one where four homes were destroyed and two others damaged, Callanan said. A ruptured water main there delayed efforts to fight the blaze until pumper trucks could be brought in, he said.
Vintner Richard Ward of Saintsbury Winery south of Napa watched Sunday afternoon as workers righted toppled barrels and rescued a 500-pound grape de-stemmer that the quake had thrown to the ground.
“That’s what happens when you’re a mile from the epicenter,” said Ward, who lost 300 to 400 bottles in the winery’s basement.
The grape harvest was supposed to start overnight Monday, but it would now be pushed off a few days, he said. Had the harvest started a day earlier, the quake would have caught the workers among the heavy barrels when it struck, Ward said.