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Napa Earthquake

Larry Giovannoni, owner of Browns Valley Market in Napa, pauses while cleaning up the disaster left by the earthquake. Giovannoni estimates that their losses will be over $1 million.

Hours after the largest earthquake to hit Napa County in generations rocked the area – breaking open streets, shattering masonry and cracking gas and water lines – residents began to survey the damage.

“It’s crazy,” said longtime Napa resident and downtown office building owner Eric Lahman, his tired eyes glazed over in disbelief. “We just finished retrofitting this building a few months ago.”

The 6.0 quake that struck the Napa area at 3:20 a.m. Sunday rattled Lahman’s three-story office building at Second and Seminary streets. He spent all of the morning surveying the damage and thanking his “lucky stars” that damage wasn’t worse.

“Everything is trashed, but, miraculously, nothing was seriously damaged,” he said as he watched his son nail a large piece of plywood over a shattered window.

Other nearby homes and businesses were not as lucky. Just a few blocks away, in a historic block of Oak Street, Christina Jamieson said she felt her entire home violently shift during the quake. The 1889 Victorian that has sheltered Jamieson and her two dogs for the past 30 years is no longer the safe haven she once knew.

“I thought a bomb went off,” said a sobbing Jamieson, as she sat outside the Red Cross temporary emergency shelter, which was operating in full swing by Sunday afternoon. “I have no place to go, I have to work, I have a mortgage to pay and I don’t know if I have a home anymore.”

City inspectors had not been out to evaluate Jamieson’s street yet and the lack of information clearly strained a traumatized Jamieson, who clutched her shaking dogs in her lap. “It was like someone took (the house) and shook it from side to side,” she said.

Woody Baker-Cohn, public affairs officer for the Red Cross, said that the Crosswalk Community Church emergency shelter had seen about 21 people by Sunday afternoon. “It was about 12 families and a few single residents,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but I fully expect that number to rise throughout the day.”

Baker-Cohn said that teams would be setting up cots and sleeping areas for residents whose homes have been deemed unsafe to enter. Residents without shelter for the evening can come to the church and stay, he said.

“The shelter will likely remain open for several days,” he said. “As long as it is needed.”

Red Cross volunteers darted throughout the emergency shelter Sunday afternoon, signing in quake victims, comforting heartbroken residents and preparing for a possible crush of locals who might soon discover their homes are no longer safe.

At the city’s Queen of the Valley Medical Center, almost 200 people were treated in the emergency room for quake-related injuries, according to hospital spokeswoman Vanessa deGier. A total of 12 patients had been hospitalized, mostly for fractured bones. Two patients were listed in critical condition, one with multiple fractures and one who suffered a heart attack, while a critically injured child was airlifted to another facility.

Patients were still coming into the ER late Sunday afternoon after sustaining injuries during the cleanup, deGier said.

Within minutes of the early morning temblor, flames erupted at Napa Valley Mobile Home Park, a cluster of 255 homes off Orchard Avenue, just north of the city. The fire leveled four residences and caused flame or smoke damage to at least six others, according to Capt. Steve Becker of the Napa County Fire Department. Department officials said a natural gas line ruptured by the quake was the likely cause of the blaze.

A broken water main, one of many in the Napa area, left firefighters without water for the first 30 minutes after the quake, allowing the mobile home park fire to spread rapidly, Becker said.

“My house is safe – the firefighters saved it,” said park resident Andre van der Heyden. “But the one to my east burned and the one on my west collapsed. We saw the fire next door so we went out right away. I feel sorry for those people. Where are they going to go after this?”

In addition to the fire damage, at least half the homes at the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park may have absorbed at least minor structural damage, according to assistant manager Kelly Doheny. Across the development, support poles for carports and awning appeared tilted or askew.

In neighborhoods west and south of downtown, streets lined largely with historic homes avoided fire — but felt just as much of the seismic violence.

“We were in the upstairs bedroom and it threw us right out of bed,” said Patrick Lowe outside his Madison Street home. “We’ve got a pool table downstairs and it shook so much, it snapped the legs off.”

“We have a pool in the back and the waves came up out onto our deck, and the bricks came out,” said Ryan Appleyard as he sidestepped overturned kitchenware and smashed dishes on the ground floor of his A Street house.

“This is what we get to deal with,” he said. “Pretty bad; lots of stuff that can’t be replaced. Anything that’s not bolted down is gone. I got thousands of dollars’ worth of Oakland A’s bobbleheads that are destroyed. Autographs, memorabilia, that’s all gone.”

Elsewhere on Madison Street, the future of Sherry Vattuone’s home appeared as tenuous as her front stoop, which the quake partially ripped off its mooring and tilted 15 degrees to the left.

“It just shifted – felt like someone was shaking the house and wouldn’t stop,” she said. “Everything was off the walls: the pantry, the wine … and I have some good wine,” she added with a rueful chuckle, passing a kitchen nook where plates and liquor bottles had been pulverized into a single heap.

“I’ve had the house since April 1972; the minute I first walked through the door, I loved it. … Well, God bless. It’s been a great house and it’s still gonna be one.”

Napa County, meanwhile, announced the closure of four county buildings in Napa until further notice. The Administration Building at 1195 Third St., the Carithers Building at First Street and Parkway Mall, the Information Technology Services office at 650 Imperial Way, and the Napa County Library at 580 Coombs St. all are off limits to visitors and employees, spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said in a statement.

Meanwhile, at a Napa apartment complex just down the street from the city’s emergency shelter, several large, covered parking structures collapsed during the quake, damaging and trapping about a dozen resident vehicles.

The Charter Oak Apartments off Browns Valley Road is an affordable apartment complex whose residents don’t have a lot of extra income, said Julio Leon, a 31-year-old resident who shares an apartment with his mother.

“My mom is still really scared,” he said Sunday morning, as he hauled a large plastic trashcan full of broken glass and wood out to the complex’s shared main garbage, which was already overflowing with broken items. “It was such an intense experience. I’m a little afraid to go back into my place on the second floor. Especially when you see (several) parking structures fallen over like this.”

Fellow Charter Oak resident Michelle Kidwell, who has lived in the complex for 14 years and survives on government disability checks, said that she is just thankful no one was seriously injured. Her own designated parking spot is under one of the parking structures that collapsed. She said that, thankfully, her son had borrowed her car to go to the weekend Indy races, ultimately saving her some significant financial strain.

“The only time my son borrows my car is to go the Indy races,” she said in awe. “What are the odds? But in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’re all OK. We can replace our things. It may take some time, but we’ll do it. We can’t replace people.”

Like many residents at the apartment complex and throughout the city, Leon and Kidwell said they do not have earthquake insurance. “With high premiums and a low occurrence rate, people on fixed incomes just can’t afford that luxury,” said Kidwell.

Leon was rethinking his decision to remain in Napa after such a terrifying ordeal, he said.

Thirteen-year-old Moises Garcia, who also lives at Charter Oak, said his bed started moving. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said, as he chatted with two cousins.

One of his sisters, who sleeps on the lower bunk of the girls’ bunk bed, was trapped for a moment, after the top bunk fell during the quake. Garcia’s father managed to lift the fallen bunk to free the girl, who was uninjured in the frightening episode.

Throughout Browns Valley, residents checked on one another to make sure everyone was OK. Roger Lewis and his 18-year-old son were among the neighbors who helped an elderly couple trapped in their bed when a board fell. They were not injured.

His other neighbors, Tim and Ann Whitlock, showed visitors visible damage, including cracks on the outside walls. “We’re waiting for the inspector to come out and kick us out,” said Tim Whitlock, smiling as he drank coffee at his house as well-wishers stopped by.

A section of the house shifted upward as the concrete patio moved about 5 inches and cabinets spilled onto the floor. It was like being in a shoebox and shaken, Tim Whitlock said.

“It was so loud that you could hardly think,” he said.

In front of their house, a stretch of roadway buckled, as did other streets and driveways in the neighborhoods, lifting pavement up to 3 feet into the air, leading some skateboarders to practice tricks on the broken pavement.

At an afternoon news conference, city officials expressed relief that the number of residents seriously injured had remained low. Barry Martin, the city’s outreach coordinator, sat on a curb outside prior to the meeting, looking uncharacteristically disheveled as he sipped a cold beverage.

“We’re pretty good dealing with emergencies here in Napa,” he said. “Lots of people have been through this before, though nothing to this magnitude. But we’re going to get through it.”

Councilman Alfredo Pedroza expressed a deep relief that there had been so few casualties. “This morning, I saw all my neighbors out with wrenches, helping each other turn off gas to the homes,” he said, overcome with emotion. “Beyond the buildings and the infrastructure, you have to be thankful that injuries weren’t worse. The expense will be difficult. It always is. But we’re going to be there for each other, like we always are. That’s what we do.”

In American Canyon, kitchen cabinets spilled onto the floor and light swung, yet American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia reported no major injuries early Sunday afternoon. The water and wastewater treatment plants were operational. So were traffic lights.

One affected business was Walgreen on American Canyon Road where a fire sprinkler broke, spilling water inside the store and causing water damage. And there are cracks into walls.

“Our hearts go out to Napa today,” Garcia said.

Tour inspectors are checking on 30 homes with crumbling chimneys, American Canyon City Manager Dana Shigley said. Other residential damages include manufactured houses that shifted off their racks during the earthquake and unstrapped water heaters moving or falling.

Along with Walgreen, industrial businesses have reported water damage from broken sprinkler systems. The losses are unknown.

Otherwise, “very minor drywall” damage was reported at City Hall; the Recreation Center, a building on Elliott Drive that hosted City Council meetings, also sustained minor damage.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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