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Napa Earthquake

Nicholas George of Carneros cranes his head down into a deep fissure in front of his house on Old Sonoma Road on the day of the South Napa earthquake.

In the early dark hours of Thursday, my house began to rattle. All I could think was “oh no, not again.”

And on the anniversary of Napa’s Big One too.

Fortunately the quake turned out to be pretty mild – a 3-point-something burp a little before 6 a.m. from the Geysers up in Sonoma County. I doubt anyone felt it much south of Calistoga.

But it did make me snap to attention before dawn, and it reminded me that I no longer enjoy earthquakes.

As an East Coaster, I didn’t grow up with earthquakes. Hurricanes, yes. Lightning, floods and small wildfires, all the time. And even the odd tornado now and then, though nothing like the Midwest.

But for the most part, the ground stays firmly underfoot and solid in the East. Earthquakes are not unknown, as the 2011 quake in Virginia showed, but that happens about once per century, so nobody thinks too much about it.

When we first moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I was afraid of earthquakes. The idea that the ground could spontaneously and without obvious reason go all wobbly was alien and terrifying. My whole experience with earthquakes had been on television, and that only shows the really big ones, like the 1989 Loma Prieta quake or the 1994 Northridge quake, and then we only see the rubble of the aftermath, which looks pretty terrifying.

After settling in California, I realized that the earth moves all the time out here. And for the most part it isn’t scary – a little tremor zips past and that’s that. Only twice while we were in LA did anything approaching a big quake occur, and both were quick jolts that made a lot of noise but didn’t do the kind of damage that the long-lasting wavy quakes seem to do.

By the time we settled in Calistoga, I had almost stopped worrying about earthquakes at all. With the seismically hyperactive Geysers just a few miles away, small quakes are a regular occurrence up there.

In fact, it got to be kind of fun. The tremor starts with a little hum, then the house begins to shake gently and the vibration moves off, like the faint shiver of an invisible train passing by.

The South Napa earthquake cured me of that amusement. Although it did very little damage Upvalley, it did shake us out of bed in the early hours of Aug. 24, 2014. It left its mark on my house in the form of cracked walls and sidewalks and doors that no longer shut snugly, but nothing like the mayhem inflicted on the city of Napa.

Unlike most Calistoga residents, however, my life was in many ways upended by the quake. The Register’s office was heavily damaged, many of my staff members suffered terrible damage at their homes and bore the lasting scars of the trauma, and much of what we wrote about for the next two years had something to do with the aftermath of the quake.

To some extent, the Register is what it is today because of the South Napa earthquake. We have changed our offices, changed our production process, and even altered our newsroom structure because of the disruption the earthquake forced on us.

Where we work, how we work, and even who we work with is shaped by that moment at 3:20 a.m. on Aug. 24.

And for me, it has forever changed how I think of earthquakes. No longer is it “Oh, that was fun,” but rather “oh no, not again.”

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You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or



Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.