Earthquake delivers strong blow to Napa

2014-08-24T16:15:00Z 2015-02-24T08:14:24Z Earthquake delivers strong blow to NapaRegister staff Napa Valley Register
August 24, 2014 4:15 pm  • 

An earthquake measuring 6.0 struck southern Napa County early Sunday with widespread reports of damage throughout the area.

This was the largest Bay Area quake since the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which measured about 6.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The worst damage appeared to be at the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park in Napa, where at least four homes were destroyed by fire and up to eight more were damaged, according to Napa County Fire Capt. Steve Becker. No residents were injured, but hours after the quake, the fires continued to burn.

“It’s breaking my heart,” said resident Linda Butler, as she surveyed the damage to her neighbor’s house.

There were fires in five other areas, city fire Operations Chief John Callanan said.

There were no reports of deaths, but one child was critically injured when a chimney collapsed, city officials said. No details on the child were available by midday however.

Napa schools announced they would be closed Monday, as did the private Justin-Siena. Napa Valley College said its classes would continue Monday since the campus suffered only cosmetic damage and utilities were functioning Sunday afternoon.

Several key Napa County offices will be closed Monday, officials said, including the County Administration Building, the Carithers Building, 650 Imperial Way and the County Library in Napa.

Elsewhere, homes and businesses suffered broken glass, overturned furniture and some structural damage. There were about 60 cases of broken or leaking water pipes, city officials said, but many of the serious breaks had been repaired by afternoon.

City officials said that the water system was functioning well despite the damage and that the water is safe to drink. It could be as long as a week before all of those leaks are repaired and everyone has normal water service.

In the meantime, the city has tapped its secondary water treatment plant at Lake Hennessey to pump extra water into the system and keep pressure up and replenish storage tanks.

Officials at Pacific Union College, meanwhile, said the shaking did little damage but might have stirred up sediment in its Angwin-based water system. It advised customers to turn to bottled water for drinking if the tapwater appeared cloudy. Such sediment poses no danger and should settle out within 24 hours, the school said.

PG&E reported more than 100 calls about possible gas line ruptures, but only 20 were confirmed by afternoon. Hundreds of workers from throughout the region flooded the Napa area by afternoon, inspecting main gas lines and investigating local reports, spokesman Paul Moreno said.

The quake knocked out power to more than 70,000 electric customers, Moreno said, but all but about 17,000 were restored within 12 hours. The rest were expected to be restored by Monday morning.

Downtown streets were littered with debris, particularly from older masonry buildings. City spokesman Barry Martin said inspectors would be checking on structures throughout the week to determine if they are safe to occupy.

“It’s better that this happened in the middle of the night” rather than during the day, when the sidewalks would have been crowded with pedestrians, he said. The previous day’s street festival had drawn 20,000 people to downtown, city officials said.

City Manager Mike Parness said inspectors had already “red tagged” 15 or 16 buildings by early afternoon, meaning they could not be entered without being repaired first, and “yellow tagged” a similar number, meaning the structures should be entered only with caution.

Three unreinforced masonry structures on Brown Street opposite the Historic Courthouse suffered extensive damage, he said. Other masonry structures that had been retrofitted to withstand quakes fared much better.

The Second Street Post Office suffered extensive damage to its facade and the tall windows along the front were broken out. At the historic First Presbyterian Church, which dates from 1874, a chimney toppled and the decorative window, known as the “Jesus Window,” shattered. At the First United Methodist Church downtown part of the facade peeled away from the roof and was leaning several inches out of kilter.

The Aveda salon in downtown was inundated with water after a pipe burst in the ceiling, sending water flowing out the front door on First Street and past the feet of onlookers. A similar break flooded McCaulou’s.

The broken water mains in the city turned Napa Creek near downtown into a brown, fast-flowing stream during the morning, even with several trees lying across it after being knocked down in the earthquake.

Resident Connie Ramey had both her chimneys collapse on her home on Second Street west of downtown. Ramey’s home was built in 1916, 10 years after the infamous 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and withstood the 1989 Lome Prieta earthquake just fine, she said.

But Sunday morning’s quake caused her chimneys to fall apart and crash down to the sidewalk.

“I’m a little shocked,” Ramey said. “This is the biggest one that I’ve ever experienced in Napa. That was scary.”

Ramey bought the home in 1983, and said damage to the interior was minimal — mostly overturned cabinets.

“I was lucky last time, but not this time,” Ramey said.

Guests in the five-story Andaz Napa hotel, among the tallest structures in the city, were evacuated immediately after the earthquake and many remained on the sidewalk, with their luggage, even hours later, wondering where they could find alternative accommodations. Spirits seemed high, however, as staff went in and out retrieving the guests’ belongings, with some joking about the quality of the wake-up call service at Napa hotels.

Guest Cheryllyn Tallman was so shaken by the experience that she was planning to head home to the East Coast immediately, cutting short her wine country vacation by several days.

“I live in Upstate New York,” she said. “We just have blizzards — and they tell you when they are coming.”

After an experience like this, she said, “you just want to go home to be with family.”

While there were no official evacuation orders in place Sunday morning, the Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Crosswalk Community Church on First Street for those displaced from their homes by quake damage. Other families could wind up displaced this week as inspectors examine more damaged homes.

According to the USGS, the quake was centered near the salt marshes south of Napa, off Milton Road. It occurred at a depth of about 6 miles.

The quake struck around 3:20 a.m. and was felt as far as 100 miles away. As of 8 a.m., there had been four significant aftershocks, measuring 2.5 or more, and numerous smaller ones, according to the USGS.

Napa Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle, who lives near the epicenter of the quake, said this was the “most violent” earthquake he has ever experienced.

First and Second streets downtown were closed because of extensive damage to the facades of buildings, city officials said, and there was quite a bit of broken glass throughout the area.

Napa Police Capt. Steve Potter said the city appeared to be calm, but he promised to provide extra patrols to secure damaged homes and businesses.

“We will see days of high police presence,” he said

The closed streets were packed with emergency vehicles from agencies around the region, gathered to offer assistance, giving the area the look of a major disaster zone. Helicopters buzzed overhead, apparently from Bay Area news organizations.

The Goodman Library downtown was showing cracks from the quake, and a chunk of the second floor wall of a building at Third and Brown streets fell into the parking lot below.

There were some reports of buckling on area streets and roads. The CHP said all of the major bridges appeared to be safe. There was significant damage in four spots, and officers warned motorists to be cautious in these areas as repair crews work on them: Highway 121 at 29; 121 at Cuttings Wharf; Old Sonoma Road between Congress Valley Road and Buhman Road; and Petrified Forest Road at Saxton Road.

City officials said they would be checking local bridges and other infrastructure to make sure they are safe. Building inspections will take much longer and Napa County will have to rely on personnel borrowed from other areas.

“We have exhausted our local resources,” Parness said.

Gov. Jerry Brown promised state help to Napa and other affected counties.

“My Office of Emergency Services has been on full activation since early this morning and is working closely with state and local emergency managers, first responders and transportation officials to respond to impacts to residents and critical infrastructure,” Brown said in a written statement Sunday morning. “These public safety officials are doing all they can to help residents and those living in affected areas should follow their guidance and instruction.”

In the hours after the quake, unsettled residents gathered in the streets and along porches throughout town.

Thyllis Kleid, 68, said she cannot recall a worse quake in Napa. “This was the worst one,” she said. “That was scary.”

At the nearby 3 Palms hotel on Second Street, night manager Karen Gurnari said televisions were thrown to the floor and furniture was tossed around in her 47 rooms, which were nearly full Saturday night.

“I am so blessed that nobody got hurt,” she said after checking on her guests.

Guest Ray Darrow of Los Gatos said the walls were shaking so violently in his third floor room that they hit him as he lay in bed.

By late afternoon, nearly 200 patients had sought treatment at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, mostly for minor cuts and bruises. There had been one person who suffered a broken hip and one other suffered a heart attack. The hospital had set up a tent on the grounds to screen and assess patients coming in for treatment.

Also, a child was critically injured by a fallen fireplace and airlifted to an area hospital, the city fire department said.

Fire officials said they responded to more than 80 medical calls, likewise mostly for minor injuries.

The county’s 911 system remained active through the quake despite widespread power outages, Napa police said.

City officials said they planned to station dumpsters at area schools on Sunday to help residents trying to clean up and dispose of debris.

Geophysicist Randy Baldwin of the USGS said the quake was followed by a series of small aftershocks and he warned residents to expect more for the next several weeks. One aftershock, nearly three hours after the main quake, measured an estimated 3.8.

“These shallow quakes tend to be followed by lots of aftershocks,” he said.

There is a small chance — between 5 and 10 percent typically — of such a quake being followed by another one of similar size or even larger, Baldwin said, but that chance will fade after about a week.

It is not yet clear which fault was responsible for the quake, Baldwin said. There are several significant ones nearby.

“This is a complicated area,” he said.

Check for more coverage and updates at

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. geekay
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    geekay - August 24, 2014 6:08 pm
    Stunning photography. (Reminds me of the award-winning work that JL Sousa did following the Loma Prieta quake 25 years ago.) Kudos to the Register staff for doing such a fantastic job under what are undoubtedly very difficult circumstances.
  2. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - August 24, 2014 7:34 pm
    I'm wondering if there are areas of Napa that are less prone to structural damage?

    It seems to me that homes on the Valley floor have a collection of sand and river bottom sediment underneath their foundations; alluvial soils that behave like quicksand in an earthquake. Is liquefaction a problem in this Valley? I think the question needs to be asked. You sure don't see nearly the degree of damage up in the hills. Correct me if I'm wrong but did Alta Heights homes sustain less damage?.

    From what I've been reading, the most significant damage was downtown and on the west side of the river and toward the western hillside, and then north into the Salvador Creek area where river sediment has been deposited over a long period of time.

    I think planners should reconsider permitting the development of tall buildings anywhere that this alluvial soil exists.

    The BIG earthquake has not even hit yet either. 6.0 was a wakeup call.
  3. Fleece Finder
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    Fleece Finder - August 24, 2014 9:21 pm
    How about the Planning Department/Commision come to the conclusion that it's not a good Idea to "Fool With Mother Nature". Keep diggin. It's all about Karma with most of the damaged area's so close to the river. Wow imagine that. Sounds like a wealth of stimulus for the local building trade and the scam artists.
  4. Merlynne
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    Merlynne - August 24, 2014 11:48 pm
    Our hearts go out to you all from Christchurch, NZ.

    We haven't forgotten the generous assistance your citizens provided us in Christchurch.

    Offering our help would probably be along the lines of taking 'coals to Newcastle' (if ever a state was prepared for EQs, it must be yours), but if there is anything we could do to assist, even just moral support, please let us know at

    I hope the aftershocks are few and far between.
    Thinking of you.
  5. boise1
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    boise1 - August 25, 2014 8:08 am
    Register. You did a horrible job in covering and updating information online on the earthquake yesterday. Do you not have a plan in place to have your reporters on call when a disaster hits? I got more information from CNN online than your paper, Napa's daily paper..

    Perhaps you could have taken information from their site if you did not have the man power to do an accurate job. I am sure your audience shares the same sentiment.
  6. reminder
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    reminder - August 25, 2014 11:09 am
    How very nice….
  7. hucknapa
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    hucknapa - August 25, 2014 11:43 am
    This is all God's wrath....
    We never should have attempted to change the streets downtown to two-way.
  8. EEArt
    Report Abuse
    EEArt - August 25, 2014 11:54 am
    Hey Nicholas George! Like, dude, aftershocks, ya' know?
  9. Napkin56
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    Napkin56 - August 25, 2014 12:21 pm
    There was significant damage done to the Register buildng. Surely it has hampered the ability to provide to produce an indepth report online and newspaper production.
  10. manfred mcflogger
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    manfred mcflogger - August 25, 2014 1:05 pm
    Let me review the various amenities which make Napa residents incredibly stupid for continuing to remain there:
    1) prolonged droughts which lead to
    2) regularly devastating wildfires
    3) inflated real estate prices (half-mil modest single family homes, rents which outprice working-class families and prevent middle-class families from saving to buy those overpriced homes)
    4) inflated retail prices, $10-$16 margaritas and $25 pizzas. You Cali dreamers are being sheared like sheep by merchants who realize the more you pay, the more exclusive you think you've become.
    5) earthquakes. Now your dilapidated hovel, a scabby waste before the tremor, is even more ridiculously unsaleable. Try generating interest in a house with a crack that looks like it originated in a roadrunner cartoon.

    Please, please, build a wall around the wine country to prevent the exodus of its citizens, whose escape would contaminate the rest of the nation with their spendthrift attitudes and plastic values.
  11. NUUNER
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    NUUNER - August 25, 2014 5:15 pm
    There you go again Napkin... Stow that common sense and allow the knot head vent his displeasure of the free online newspapers ability to write their stories from the front seat of their car. Maybe Boise1, the newpaper employees are dealing with a damaged home of their own. A lot of folks business', homes and lively hoods have been damaged beyond repair. A little compasion may be required. CNN does not reside in Napa, but Register employees probably do.
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