6.0 earthquake strikes California wine country

Last updated 10:22 25/08/2014

Homes are set ablaze in the aftermath of an earthquake that hit California wine country.

Damage is seen at the US Post Office building after a 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California.
Reuters Zoom
Damage is seen at the US Post Office building after a 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California.

SlideshowQuake hits Napa, California

View Quake hits Napa, California in a larger map

Quake rocks California's Napa valley

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A long, rolling magnitude 6.0 earthquake has shaken much of the San Francisco Bay Area awake, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. The quake damaged buildings, cut off power to tens of thousands, sparked fires, and sent at least 89 people to hospitals, including three who were in critical condition. 

Are you in California and did you feel the quake? Email your newstips, photos and video to newstips@stuff.co.nz

Centred about nine miles south of wine country's Napa at 3.20am PDT (10.20pm NZ time), the quake was felt as far south as Santa Cruz and into Sonoma County. It was the largest earthquake to strike the Bay Area since the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake of 1989, the US Geological Survey said.

A little more than two hours after the quake, a shallow magnitude 3.6 tremor was reported by the USGS. The aftershock occurred at 5.47am (12:47am, NZ time) at a depth of eight kilometres. The National California Seismic System put the chance of a strong aftershock in the next week at 54 per cent. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, released a video showing an early-warning system that sent an alert 10 seconds before the earthquake.

The quake was the worst to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the magnitude 6.9-quake struck in 1989, famously collapsing part of the Bay Bridge and killing more than 60 people, most when an Oakland freeway fell.

Napa residents walked the streets of downtown in a daze at first light Sunday, taking stock. Buildings were partially crumbled, homes torn apart with dressers, televisions and the contents of refrigerators torn asunder.

At least three people were seriously hurt, including a child who was flown to Santa Rosa Community Hospital after a fireplace fell on the child. A spokeswoman at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa said most of its injured patients had cuts, bumps and bruises. Many were being treated and released, but some were admitted. There were about 80 calls for medical help.

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The quake prompted about 100 calls about potential gas leaks, and 30 water main leaks and breaks. The leaks prompted officials to open two evacuation centres. A number of historic buildings were damaged, according to the city.

According to a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. map, more than 42,000 customers were without power across the northern Bay Area, including American Canyon, Napa, St. Helena, Santa Rosa and Sonoma.

The California Highway Patrol looked for damage and quickly found it: An overpass in Vallejo on California 37 headed toward American Canyon showed several areas where the roadway had separated and concrete had crumbled.

According to the USGS, the earthquake occurred within 70 km of a set of major faults along the San Andreas fault system that forms the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.

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Jennifer Patefield, 47, who runs the boutique Mariposa Ice Creamery store in Napa, said she was "jolted" awake and counted to 40 before motion stopped. The fridge emptied its contents and the china cabinet was "gone," Patefield said, and just about everything hanging on the walls of the family home about a half-mile from the historic downtown came tumbling down.

"I surf and it was like riding a big wave," said Patefield, as she assessed the damage downtown with her husband, daughter and son. As for her store, she feared the entire stock of the small-batch ice cream prepared there would be lost if the power wasn't restored soon.

"Every chimney is down in our neighbourhood," said Mackenzie Patefield, 15, who was worried about her high school chemistry lab. "We were doing experiments and those chemicals are probably all over the place," she said.

Tourists were also out in force, some of them startled by the force of nature.

"We just have snowstorms where we come from," said Cheryllyn Tallman, 56, of New Hartford, New York. She and her husband were in the area for the scheduled GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race. Her husband was sound asleep when the quake hit.

"For a man who never uses inappropriate language, I heard some colourful words come out," said Tallman, who took a tip from what she'd seen on TV and headed for a doorway.

Bevin O'Brien, 35, was shaking slightly as she walked the streets of downtown to check on City Winery, where she tends bar. She had been told not to come to work. O'Brien, who is from Tucson, called her first quake experience "terrifying."

"We could hear it before we felt it, like someone was aggressively running up the stairs," she said. She and her boyfriend were awake, watching "Dateline" on the couch. It was a lucky turn. The dresser fell onto her bed and the TV in that room went flying.

Talk among many was of the monetary loss likely suffered. But a sense of community prevailed.

Victor Davis, 49, who works for a local bed and breakfast he declined to name, said he was reaching for a book in the midst of a slight bout of insomnia when the quake hit. He set to work helping the 20 guests evacuate, as the kitchen is now inoperable.

"We had them sit outside and look at the stars and I brought them blankets and slippers," he said.

Megan Hill, 52, was also marvelling at the camaraderie. She ran down the hall to check on her 22-year-old daughter and slammed so hard into an open door that she suffered a deep cut to her collarbone.

Her neighbourhood, on what downtown locals call one of the "tree streets," quickly banded together, surveying for gas leaks and injuries in groups. At one home, a neighbour came in to read to a group of young children while their parents attended to the crisis.

A fifth grade teacher, Hill said she had awakened at midnight worrying about her classroom, which she had not yet earthquake proofed.

"Did I think about my own home? No," she said with a smile.

Her chickens, she said, "went crazy" when the quake hit. She went outside in the dark and sang Goodnight Ladies to them.

-Los Angeles Times

- AP


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