The magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked wine county north of San Francisco early Sunday, damaging buildings and causing power outages. Stephen Lam/Reuters
California's governor declared a state of emergency on Sunday after a powerful earthquake shook the area north of San Francisco, igniting several fires and cutting power to tens of thousands of homes.
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Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state of emergency on Sunday morning just hours after the magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck around 3:20 a.m. local time, jolting residents of the San Francisco Bay Area from their beds.
Dazed residents too fearful of aftershocks to go back to bed wandered at dawn through Napa's historic downtown, where the quake had shorn a 10-foot chunk of bricks and concrete from the corner of an old county courthouse. Boulder-sized pieces of rubble littered the lawn and street in front of the building and the hole left behind allowed a view of the offices inside.
The quake's epicentre was eight kilometres northwest of the town of American Canyon, about 60 kilometres north of San Francisco. Napa and Sonoma — two nearby tourist destinations known for their wineries — were some of the hardest-hit areas, with tens of thousands of residents cut off from power, according to the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric.
PG&E has reduced the number of customers without power to about 17,000, spokesman Jeff Smith said. Right after the earthquake hit about 70,000 people were without power, he said.
Officials in the city of Napa say 15 to 16 buildings are no longer habitable and there is only limited access to numerous other structures. Napa City Manager Mike Parness released the damage details at an afternoon news conference.
Parness says the buildings to which only limited access is being granted mostly suffered broken windows, and they are still assessing other buildings in the area.
"We've had over 100 calls about the smell of natural gas," noted Parness.
In addition, 60 water mains are broken and 20 of those have been shut off by officials.
Napa resident Rob Doughty, who was awake when the quake hit, said it was like a roller coaster ride, but scarier.
"You could hear things crashing all around in the house," Doughty told CBC News Network.
"My cupboards got dumped out, my refrigerator got moved around, then the power went out. Pitch black. It was scary."
Doughty said it was "total chaos" when he ventured into downtown Napa. Many of the town’s older stone buildings suffered severe damage.
All Napa Valley Unified School District campuses will be closed Monday.
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed on the earthquake, the White House said. Federal officials also have been in touch with state and local emergency responders.
Napa Fire Department Operations Chief John Callanan said the city has exhausted its own resources trying to extinguish six fires, some in places with broken water mains; transporting injured residents; searching homes for anyone who might be trapped; and answering calls about gas leaks and downed power lines.
Injuries mostly cuts, bruises
Two major injuries have been reported, and hospitals have been busy coping with moderate injuries throughout the morning, Napa Division Fire Chief John Callanan said.
The earthquake sent 120 people to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, where officials set up a triage tent to handle the influx. Hospital CEO Walt Mickens says most had cuts, bumps and bruises received either in the quake, when they tried to flee their homes or while cleaning up. Three people were admitted with broken bones, and two for heart attacks.
The quake also caused six significant fires, including one that engulfed four mobile homes. The damage from the fires is not yet clear, but it appears significant, Napa Division Fire Chief Darren Drake said.
Several other smaller fires have been reported, but firefighting efforts have been complicated by broken water mains.
"There's collapses, fires," said Napa Fire Capt. Doug Bridewell, standing in front of large pieces of masonry that broke loose from a turn of the century office building where a fire had just been extinguished. "That's the worst shaking I've ever been in."
Bridewell said he had to climb over fallen furniture in his own home to check on his family before reporting to duty.
Strong, shallow quake
California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill told KTVU-TV that road damage appears confined to the Napa and Sonoma areas. He said there appears to be no damage to major bridges in the Bay Area.
"The 6.0 is a sizeable quake for this area," said Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., adding its depth would be considered a "shallow quake.
"The depth of the earthquake was just less than 11 kilometres, and numerous small aftershocks have occurred in the nearby Napa wine country shortly after, the USGS said. The USGS says the quake was the largest earthquake to shake the Bay Area since the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta quake in 1989.
"It started very much like a rolling sensation and just got progressively worse in terms of length," said Oakland resident Rich Lieberman.
"Not so much in terms of shaking, but it did shake. It felt like a side-to-side kind of rolling sensation. Nothing violent but extremely lengthy and extremely active."
The USGS asked others who felt the quake to share with them what it felt like for future research.
The agency also warned the Napa area will likely get 30 to 70 smaller aftershocks — between 3 and 5 magnitude — over the next week.
Winemakers clean up costly damage
Winemakers in California's storied Napa Valley woke up to thousands of broken bottles and barrels as a result of Sunday's earthquake.
The earthquake couldn't have come at a worse time for the region, which has just started harvesting the 2014 crop.
"It's devastating. I've never seen anything like this," said Tom Montgomery, a winemaker for B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, California.
The epicentre of the earthquake was just 10 kilometres southwest of Napa, the centre of California's winemaking region.
B.R. Cohn lost "as much as 50 per cent" of its wine, Montgomery said. The winery focuses on high-end, single estate wines that retail between $40 and $100 a bottle.
"It's not just good wine we lost, it's our best wine," he said.
At Dahl Vineyards in Yountville, California, a rack full of wine barrels was teetering and in danger of coming down. One barrel containing $16,000 worth of pinot noir fell and was lost as a result of the quake. The owners were trying to save the rest, removing the barrels with a forklift. Elsewhere in the region, red wine stains were visible outside the doors of a warehouse — indicating there was damage inside.
Napa is California's best-known winemaking region. While it produces only 4 percent of California's total wine crop, Napa's wines are considered among the best in the world and sell for a premium price. The Napa Valley does $50 billion in economic activity a year, or roughly a quarter of wine industry for the entire U.S., according to Napa Valley Vinters.
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