August 25, 2014 – A Jolt in Northern California: Early Sunday morning, Franz Oehler’s house blew apart.
“My girlfriend and I were thrown straight in the air, and the windows exploded,” said Mr. Oehler, a 44-year-old creative director, whose home is nestled among some of the country’s most celebrated vineyards.
A magnitude-6.0 earthquake hit the Napa Valley at 3:20 a.m. Sunday — the strongest temblor in the San Francisco Bay Area in a quarter-century — destroying both opulent and modest homes, rupturing dozens of water and gas mains and causing injuries, mostly minor, to more than 100 people.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, and directed state resources toward a recovery effort in Napa.
At least 120 people had been treated at the emergency room at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, said Vanessa deGier, a hospital spokeswoman. Most of the injuries were minor lacerations or abrasions caused by falling debris. But three patients were in critical condition, including a child who had been crushed by a falling fireplace. No deaths had been confirmed as of Sunday evening.
The shaking was felt as far off as Salinas, almost 120 miles away, and the United States Geological Survey estimated that economic losses could be up to $1 billion.
Despite the widespread damage, scientists said California was fortunate to escape greater devastation from the earthquake, which exposed gaps in the state’s preparedness. The historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake was about 500 times larger than Sunday’s temblor.
“It is truly small — small compared to what California has experienced in its recorded history,” said Ross S. Stein, a geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey.
“We owe wine country in part to earthquakes,” which created the Napa Valley terrain that is so suitable to vineyards, he said. “We all want to enjoy the fruits of the quakes, so we all have to prepare for the downside, too.”
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The Master of Disaster