California quake injures dozens, gas leak inspections underway

The magnitude-6.0 quake struck Sunday near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills of Northern California.

By , Associated Press

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    Pedestrians stop to examine a crumbling facade at the Vintner's Collective tasting room in Napa, Calif., following an earthquake Sunday. Officials in the city of Napa say 15 to 16 buildings are no longer inhabitable after Sunday's magnitude-6.0 earthquake, and there is only limited access to numerous other structures.

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A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. Scores were injured as the temblor knocked out power to thousands, caused gas and water lines to rupture, sparked fires and buckled roads.

The magnitude-6.0 quake struck at 3:20 a.m. PDT Sunday near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills of Northern California. Fires had flared in a mobile home park where four homes were destroyed and two others were damaged, officials said.

By midday Sunday, the fires were out and power was being restored, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

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"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 utility serving areas damaged by Sunday's earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area says it expects to continue searching for possible gas leaks over the coming days.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. says it has received several hundred calls from people reporting the smell of gas since the earthquake struck early Sunday morning near the city of Napa in California's wine country. The utility said 20 customers remained without gas on Monday morning.

The magnitude 6.0-quake also cut power and ruptured water mains. Dozens of homes and buildings in the region were deemed unsafe to occupy, including a historic Napa County courthouse, where a 10-foot (3-meter) wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.

PG&E says it has restored power to all but 150 of the 70,000 customers who lost it.

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 assessing the damage in hopes of getting a cost estimate they could submit for possible federal assistance. 

The quake struck about 6 miles south of Napa and lasted 10 to 20 seconds depending on proximity to the epicenter, 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 struck in 1989, collapsing part of the Bay Bridge roadway and killing more than 60 people, most when an Oakland freeway fell.

Sunday's temblor was felt widely throughout the region, from more than 200 miles south of Napa and as far east as the Nevada border.

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. His 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 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.

About 70,000 customers lost power after the quake hit, but Pacific Gas and Electric spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt said early Monday that the number was down to about 150. The utility said it expects to continue searching for possible gas leaks over the coming days.

The quake also ruptured water mains. Dozens of homes and buildings in the region were deemed unsafe to occupy, including a historic Napa County courthouse, where a 10-foot wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.

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.

The timing of the quake was bad for business in Napa as well.

Vintner Richard Ward of Saintsbury Winery south of Napa watched Sunday afternoon as workers righted toppled barrels and rescued a 500-pound grape de-stemmer that the quake had thrown to the ground.

"That's what happens when you're a mile from the epicenter," said Ward, who lost 300 to 400 bottles in the winery's basement.

The grape harvest was supposed to start overnight Monday, but it would now be pushed off a few days, he said. Had the harvest started a day earlier, the quake could have caught the workers among the heavy barrels when it struck, Ward said.

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.

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