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Updated: Mon, 25 Aug 2014 06:30:46 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

California earthquake: timing was bad, but damage manageable



Karl Luchsinger (© C)

Karl Luchsinger (C) surveys the damage on a vehicle crushed by a collapsed parking structure in Napa, California August 24, 2014. A 6.0 earthquake rocked wine county north of San Francisco early Sunday, injuring dozens of people, damaging historical buildings, setting some homes on fire and causing power outages around the picturesque town of Napa. The quake, the biggest in the region in 25 years, jolted many residents out of bed when it hit at 3:20 a.m. (1020 GMT). It was centered 6 miles (10 km) south of the city of Napa. REUTERS/Stephen Lam (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR43K3Z Stephen Lam/Reuters

Many northern Californians cleaning up after a powerful Sunday earthquake say they’re thankful the quake, which rumbled in the dead of night, didn’t do more damage.

The magnitude 6.0-quake struck at 3:20 a.m. local time Sunday near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills that’s a favourite among tourists. Many reported being jolted awake, with dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them.

- MAP | Earthquake danger zones around the world

Scores suffered minor injuries, and the temblor also knocked out power to thousands, caused gas and water lines to rupture and sparked fires. But by midday Sunday local time, the fires were out and power was starting to be restored, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

"While it was bad, it wasn't as bad as it could be and it was very manageable from a regional perspective," Ghilarducci said.

The quake struck about 10 kilometres south of Napa and lasted 10 to 20 seconds depending on proximity to the epicentre, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was the largest to shake the San Francisco Bay Area since the magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which collapsed part of the Bay Bridge roadway and killed more than 60 people.

It was felt widely throughout the region, with people reporting feeling it more than 300 kilometres south of Napa and as far east as the Nevada border.

For many, the quake struck at the worst time possible, rousing them in the middle of the night and sending them fumbling in darkness to take cover and find loved ones. A number of the injuries were caused by people stepping on broken glass, falling down or being hit by furniture.

The quake's timing was also bad for Napa Valley's famed vineyards, where winemakers were just getting ready to harvest the 2014 crop.  The quake broke thousands of bottles of wine and toppled barrels. 

Omar Rodriguez, 23, of Napa, was treated for a gash on his forehead in one of the triage tents outside a hospital that handled the victims.

"We woke up to the earthquake and I thought I was dreaming because I fell off my bed, you know, it was all dark, and I just got back up. She noticed it was all bleeding," he said, referring to his girlfriend.

Officials were still assessing the damage late Sunday in hopes of getting a cost estimate they could submit for possible federal assistance. But the initial assessment found that dozens of homes and buildings in the region were unsafe to occupy, including an historic Napa County courthouse, where a 10-foot wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.

Teen badly injured

Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa reported treating 172 people in the emergency room, although hospital officials could not say how many of them were there for injuries suffered in the quake and how many for more routine injuries and illnesses, hospital CEO Walt Mickens said.

Twelve people were admitted for broken bones and other medical problems directly related to the earthquake, including an adult who remained in critical condition on Sunday night and a 13-year-old boy.

The teen was hit by flying debris from a collapsed fireplace and had to be airlifted to the children's hospital at the University of California Davis Medical Center for a neurological evaluation. He condition was listed as serious, hospital spokeswoman Phyllis Brown said.

While inspecting the shattered glass at her husband's storefront office in downtown Napa, Chris Malloy described calling for her two children in the dark as the quake rumbled under the family's home, tossing heavy pieces of furniture for several feet.

"It was shaking and I was crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, looking for them," the 45-year-old woman said, wearing flip flops on feet left bloodied from crawling through broken glass.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman Jeff Smith said an assessment found that about 70,000 customers lost power after the quake hit, but that number was down to around 2,200 by midnight.

Early detection system tested

An earthquake early warning system currently being tested issued a 10-second warning before the quake struck, said Richard Allen, director of the University of California, Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. California is working to implement a statewide system, though Allen said funding has not been secured.

Aftershocks were expected to continue for several weeks, though State Geologist John Parrish said they would decrease in magnitude and it was unlikely that there would be a large follow-up earthquake. Still, he warned people to be careful because buildings that were damaged by the quake were now more susceptible to collapse from aftershocks.

On Sunday night in Southern California, a small, magnitude 3.3 earthquake hit off the region's coast. There were no initial reports of damages, police said.

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