The strongest earthquake to strike northern California in 25 years crumpled historic buildings, cracked roads and highways and damaged wineries in the world- renowned Napa Valley. Scores of people were injured.
The 6.1-magnitude temblor jolted residents out of bed at about 3:20 a.m. local time yesterday. The brunt of the damage was centered in downtown Napa, where some older buildings were partially collapsed. Six homes at a nearby trailer park were destroyed by fire. More than 120 people were injured, including three critically.
“It was the most powerful earthquake I’ve ever felt,” said Dianne Cameron, a 45-year-old Napa resident. “It was lifting the bed off the floor so much that I had to hold onto the mattress so I wouldn’t fall off. It was as if someone picked up the house and started shaking it.”
The epicenter was 51 miles (82 kilometers) southwest of Sacramento, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on its website. The temblor was felt as far away as San Francisco, where Mayor Ed Lee warned residents to be prepared for strong aftershocks.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared the stricken zone a disaster area. Amtrak, the U.S. national passenger railroad, said it suspended service on four routes through the Bay Area until tracks and bridges are inspected. Two adults and a child suffered critical injuries among the 120 patients being treated at the Queen of the Valley Hospital in the city of Napa, the medical center said on its website.
The quake left many in Napa without power and water as crews rushed to restore service. Debris and broken glass littered the sidewalks in front of restaurants, wine stores, and antique shops. A blue Nissan Sentra lay crumpled under bricks that fell from an older building that houses a bail bond office. Sixteen buildings were “red-tagged” as uninhabitable.
The facade on the 113-year-old Goodman Library building, home to the city’s historical society and landmarks commission, collapsed during the quake, sending chucks of concrete onto the sidewalk below. The local post office had a 12-foot crack torn into the corner of the building. PG&E Corp. said it restored power to about 53,000 of 70,000 customers whose service failed.
“It was a significant earthquake” city manager Mike Parness said in an interview. “Given the magnitude and the reports of damage, this is going to take some time to get back from.”
Many of the shops in downtown had windows broken and merchandise toppled off shelves. At the Lucero Olive Oil Co., a stream of olive oil oozed out the front door from hundreds of bottles that lay shattered on the floor.
Randy Schwartz, who owns a yarn shop in the downtown with his wife, Marcia, was jolted out of bed by the quake. “It just rolled and rolled and rolled,” he said. “The bed was moving. The furniture was dancing across the floor.”
The storefront window of his shop was shattered, and products lay scattered. He had a generator hooked up, providing power to the cleaning equipment. “Fortunately it’s yarn so there wasn’t much to break,” he said.
The Napa-Sonoma area is home to one of California’s best- known wine-growing regions. Napa County has 789 licensed wineries which had sales of $5.5 billion in 2011, according to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, a trade group.
David Duncan, 48, chief executive officer at Silver Oak winery in Napa Valley, arrived at his business at around 4:30 a.m. soon after the earthquake hit. There appeared to be no structural damage to the winery, which was rebuilt in 2008 after a 2006 fire destroyed the property.
“When I arrived, the first thing I did was go into the barrel room to assess any damage to the barrels,” Duncan said. “We did have three barrels that fell, which was very fortunate. We’re lucky there wasn’t more.”
Then he headed to a storage room lined with wooden shelves of wine bottles to find hundreds of broken bottles piled on the floor. The smell of wine lingered in the air, and dried drops of red wine could be seen on the ceiling of the room after it had been cleaned.
“We rebuilt the entire winery in 2008 and had earthquake codes and everything in mind when we did, and so I think the winery held up quite well,” Duncan said.
Visitors to the popular tourist region described being shaken awake in the middle of the night.
“We were sleeping, and it took me a second to come to,” said Neal Mudgett, a 32-year-old Los Gatos, California, resident visiting Napa for the weekend. “I was dreaming about it. I incorporated it in my dream.”
Along Highway 29, a road dotted with Napa Valley’s wineries, Oakville Grocery had a “closed” sign hanging from its main entrance and a chalkboard sign by the open front door that read: “Due to the massive earthquake cleanup, we are temporarily closed and only available for a complimentary cup of coffee and morning pastries. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” Customers wandered in as staff restocked shelves.
“We got here at 5 this morning and had lost a good portion of our wine,” said general manager Bianca Shiver, a 49-year-old Orinda resident. “Inventory was all out on the floor all shattered.”
At the Robert Mondavi winery, phones rang constantly at the visitors center as people called to check whether the winery was open. The facility experienced minimal damage from the quake, with some wine bottles and pottery falling from shelves in the winery’s store.
A dried pool of red wine that had been cleaned up earlier stained the store’s floor as visitors walked about. A strong smell of wine lingered in the air.
Visitors continued arriving, with some posing for self- taken photos next to the rows of grapes growing outside the winery’s main entrance. Others sipped wine in the tasting room.
The temblor was the strongest in the Bay Area since the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, which struck during a World Series baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants.
Peter Alig, a 37-year-old Napa resident and the visitor center coordinator at the Mondavi winery was jolted awake, describing it as the strongest quake he’s ever experienced. His cabinets were open and everything fell out. He lost power.
“I have a lot of cleaning up to do when I get home after work today,” he said.
The California Highway Patrol in San Francisco said there was no reported road damage in Marin County or the city of Santa Rosa. It didn’t have any immediate reports of damage to roads in South Bay, the Peninsula and East Bay, according to Twitter postings.
–With assistance from Nancy Moran and Mary Childs in New York.