Monday 29 December 2014

California starts quake clean-up

Published 25/08/2014 | 11:22

Pedestrians examine the crumbling facade at the Vintner's Collective tasting room in Napa, California, after an earthquake (AP)
Pedestrians examine the crumbling facade at the Vintner's Collective tasting room in Napa, California, after an earthquake (AP)

California is assessing the damage after a powerful earthquake struck the heart of the US state's wine country, catching many people sound asleep.

The magnitude-6.0 quake struck at 3.20am local time yesterday near the city of Napa, an oasis of Victorian-era buildings nestled in the vineyard-studded hills of northern California.

Scores of people were injured as the tremor knocked out power to thousands, caused gas and water lines to rupture and sparked fires.

By midday yesterday, 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," he said.

The quake struck about six miles (10 kilometres) south of Napa and lasted 10 to 20 seconds depending on proximity to the epicentre, according to the US 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.

This earthquake was felt widely throughout the region, with people reporting feeling it more than 200 miles (320 kilometres) south of Napa and as far east as the Nevada border.

Aftershocks are 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.

But he warned people to be careful because buildings that were damaged by the quake were now more susceptible to collapse from aftershocks.

For many, the earthquake 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.

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.

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.

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

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

The grape harvest was supposed to start overnight, but it would now be pushed back 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, Mr Ward said.

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

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 (3-metre) wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.

Queen of the Valley Medical Centre in Napa admitted t welve people for broken bones and other problems directly related to the earthquake, including an adult who remained in a critical condition last 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 Centre 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.

"It was shaking and I was crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, looking for them," the 45-year-old 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 11pm.

Press Association

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