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Shake up call

Shake up call

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* Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series looking back at the Sept. 3, 2000, earthquake in Napa. *For most Napa residents, the jolt a year ago Monday was the biggest earthquake of their lives, a middle-of-the-night bone-shaker that shattered dishes, toppled TVs and cracked some 2,000 chimneys.Add it all up — the chimneys, the glassware, the closure of the District Auditorium at Napa High School— and you get $65 million in damage, almost $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the city.Because contractors are in short supply locally and few households had $6,000 to $10,000 sitting in a quake contingency fund, more than 1,000 houses still await structural repairs.When the quake hit, many people figured that Napa was feeling the ripples of a much larger event that had leveled parts of the central Bay Area. To their amazement, they soon learned that the quake was a self-contained Napa Valley event.It hit on Sept. 3 at 1:36 a.m. under Mount Veeder, three miles southwest of Yountville, then roared like a freight train into central and westNapa, nine miles away.It was California's most powerful temblor in 2000 and the Golden State's only presidentially-declared disaster of the year. Only last month did a stronger quake occur in California.The quake that caused so much property damage and jarred so many nerves was what experts call a "moderate" seismic event. It was first reported as being 5.2 on the Richter scale but later was downgraded to 5.1.For a 5.1 quake, "the damage was way out of line," said Steve Walter, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. In many places, a 5.1 "knocks over one or two chimneys, maybe, and makes the headlines for a day," he said.Property damage was greater in Napa because much of the city sits on alluvial soil deposited by ancient rivers.When powerful shock waves hit Napa, this sedimentary soil shook like the proverbial bowl of Jello, Walter said. "Tap a bowl of Jello," he said. "The shaking goes on and on."In Napa's case, the shaking lasted 18 seconds: a near eternity for those who sat bolt upright in bed listening to the cacophony of shattering throughout their houses.At first, in the euphoria that comes with surviving a brush with death, the damage didn't seem so great. The first estimates were $5 million to $15 million. The evening of the quake, thousands of Napans gathered at Veterans Park for the annual Symphony on the River.Only after inspectors fanned out through neighborhoods and residents tested their chimneys did damage estimates soar. Soon Gov. Gray Davis, then President Bill Clinton, declared Napa a disaster area, making residents eligible for low-interest loans and grants from both state and federal government.More than 5,000 households and businesses registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for property inspections. "We're still getting people who are finding damage," said Bruce Gunn, the city's chief building official."There was disproportional suffering," said Mike O'Bryon, the city's public works director. "That's one of the devilish things about the earthquake."One house may have been knocked off its foundation while the one next door escaped with a broken dish or two. The east side of town, because it sits on bedrock, largely escaped damage altogether.Although a full year has passed, more than 1,000 Napa households have not repaired quake damage, primarily cracked chimneys, city officials said.For most people, it's a matter of economics — where do they come up with an extra $6,000 or $8,000? — and where do they find a contractor?, Gunn said."Times are good and the contractors are busy," he said. "I talked to one contractor. He's scheduled 12-14 months out."The quake's most costly casualty, the District Auditorium on Jefferson Street, sits empty and may remain that way for another couple of years. Plans are being drawn for repairs costing an estimated $9 million.Neal O'Haire, the county's emergency services manager, said he was "intellectually prepared" for the September quake. After all, that's his job. But he was not emotionally prepared for a disaster hitting his home, his family, his town. "You think it won't happen here," said O'Haire, who sustained $20,000 of damage to his house.The quake could turn into a positive experience if enough people view it as a wake-up call for the really big one that lies ahead, O'Haire said. "I view it as a sneak peek at the final exam," he said.According to the Geological Survey, the greatest threat in terms of a major quake is the Rodgers Creek fault that runs through San Pablo Bay, then into Sonoma County toward Santa Rosa.There is a 32 percent chance of a major rupture of 6.7 or greater on Rodgers Creek by 2030, the USGS said.If the highest probability fault for an earthquake, Rodgers Creek, had a 7.1, Napa County could expect over 500 casualties and nine fatalities, according to the USGS. Additionally, property damage could total $360 million, with nearly 5,000 buildings sustaining moderate to severe damage.If the Concord-Green Valley Fault, which runs east of the Napa Valley, let loose with a 6.8 quake (a 6 percent probability by 2030), there could be 300 casualties and four deaths. Napa property loss could reach $310 million, with 5,300 structures receiving moderate to severe damage, according to USGS models.In the Rodgers Creek scenario, 680 households would need emergency shelter. In the case of Concord-Green Valley, 380 families would need accommodations.The biggest known threat to Napa could be the West Napa Fault which runs through the west side of town and creates the change in elevation at Alston Park on Dry Creek Road. West Napa is capable of a 6.5 quake, causing $780 million in property damage, with nearly 12,000 structures hit with moderate to severe damage. There could be 1,300 casualties, including 25 deaths, the USGS said.Because West Napa is a low friction fault line with a poorly known history, the USGS is not assigning a probability to when it might rupture.In one of these major quakes, the force would be at least 50 times greater than last September's shaking.Given Napa's potential for a major quake, more people should be taking steps to strengthen their houses, O'Bryon said. Unfortunately, once the memory of a disaster begins to fade, people return to a "denial" mode, he said.For $500 or so, a homeowner could make interior improvements that would prevent cabinets and bookcases from flinging open or falling, O'Haire said. Water heaters could be made safe..For $400 to $600 in annual premiums, most residents could buy earthquake insurance with deductibles of 10 to 15 percent. But because deductibles are so high, only 12 policy holders — those with catastrophic damage — actually collected any money after the September quake, O'Haire said.There were 2800 people in Napa with quake insurance, according to the California Earthquake Authority. Of those, 184 suffered damage but only 12 had enough damage to get paid, according to the CEA.Walter of the USGS, who lives near the San Andreas Fault in Menlo Park, has gone one big step beyond screwing pictures to the wall and anchoring china cases. He has shored up the bracing to the foundation of his 1940s home."I bought $100 worth of three-quarter-inch plywood and spent a weekend screwing strips to the cripple wall," Walter said. "I feel a whole lot better knowing that my house wouldn't fall off its foundation."Robert Uhrhammer, a research seismologist with the U.C. Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, lives near the Hayward Fault, which has the same probability of a major break as Rodgers Creek.Uhrhammer said he strengthened his foundation at a cost of $2,300 a few years ago, using the services of a civil engineer and a contractor. Then he canceled his earthquake insurance. He no longer needs it, he said.The problem with earthquakes is that really big ones happen less than once a generation and are easily forgotten, quake experts say. Barring a big jolt to the contrary, the memory that Napa is earthquake country may soon be nothing more than an amusing anecdote told at gatherings.Kevin Courtney can be reached at 256-2217 or at——Quake Facts* First rated at 5.2, the Napa quake was later lowered to 5.1 after data from seismic monitors were fully analyzed. This is a "moderate" quake that could have been expected to tumble objects off shelves and crack some masonry.The quake caused substantially greater damage because the force was funneled at Napa, where most of the city sits on old river soil that shakes like Jello when jolted.* Damage estimated at $65 million, with some 2,000 houses needing chimney repair.* Of 1,842 property owners to get free permits to repair quake damage, only 534 have completed the work as of mid-August, city officials said.* The U.S. Small Business Administration approved 1,324 loans, mostly to homeowners, for $22.6 million. The average loan was $17,000.* Over 5,000 property owners asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for property inspections. FEMA awarded grants totaling $5.5 million for inspections, debris removal and repairs.* The quake is blamed for one fatality, Alma Shimel, age 83, who suffered a heart attack shortly after being awakened by the violent shaking.Shimel, who had heart disease and was living alone in Napa, managed to walk to a neighbor's house after the quake. There she went into coronary arrest, the coroner reported.She was pronounced dead at Queen of the Valley Hospital at 3:29 a.m., less than two hours after the earth shook.Forty people were treated at the Queen of the Valley Hospital emergency room on the night of the quake. By far the most serious injured was 5-year-old Nathan Schank, who was critically hurt from falling fireplace bricks. Schank has made nearly a full recovery and will return to kindergarten this fall. (See full story Monday).* The quake occurred on a previously unknown fault 5.9 miles below Mount Veeder, 3 miles southwest of Yountville. Because of geologic features, the force was funneled directly at Napa.Seismologists note that there are many unmapped faults capable of causing a quake the size of last September's.* The rupture below Mount Veeder lasted a fraction of a second. Because Napa sits on soil that liquifies when shaken, the city shook for 18 seconds.——Sources for Earthquake Safety InformationFor a compendium of things to do at home to prepare for the next quake, contact the Association of Bay Area Governments Web site:* For further information, visit city and county building departments. Also, city fire departments have literature. For more information, call Jim Pope, the city fire department's administrative captain, at 257-9290.* To learn how to help your neighborhood in an emergency, sign up for 16 hours of Community Emergency Response Team classes. For more information, contact the Napa Valley College Criminal Justice Training Center at 253-3263.* Napa continues to issue free building permits to quake victims. Because recovery is occurring slowly, these permits currently have no expiration.

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