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South Napa earthquake hits historic downtown the hardest

An overnight jolt

Earthquake damage in downtown Napa, California
Laurie Jo Miller Farr

As helicopters circled overhead, large numbers of media and crew converged on downtown Napa, Calif., its streets largely roped off to vehicles and pedestrians alike in the aftermath of the Aug. 24 pre-dawn earthquake measured at 6.0 centered nearby.

Damage in downtown Napa is extensive, although assessments are ongoing, city officials said on Monday. It will still be several days before they release any estimates on the full extent of the destruction, with many buildings far too unstable for even preliminary entry.

Red-tagging procedures

Officials said structural engineers are examining buildings that have been red-tagged by inspection teams, who are on the lookout for obvious signs of damage. Toppled chimneys, broken windows, loosened foundations, chunks of plaster and roofing were widely in evidence. Further investigations will follow, looking more closely at interior damage.

At a Monday morning press conference in city hall, Rick Tooker, community development director, had a list of 49 buildings already red-tapped, but he expects the number to rise. Tooker indiated that Monday's objective was to continue the red-tagging process until darkness fell, adding that 600 properties currently lack water.

Historic buildings damaged

Other buildings that sustained major seismic structural damage include Napa Senior Center, Napa County Superior Court, Vintner's Collective and the 1901 Goodman Library with is also the Napa County Historical Society. A car was crushed by falling rubble and a building at the corner of Second and Brown Streets lost a good portion of its top floor. Outside the library, heavy stones and rubble are scattered across the pavement beneath the broken pediment. The Vintner's Collective, an exclusive tasting room, was left virtually a shell of its former self.

Clean up

At family-owned Van's Liquor Store, featured on the front page of Monday's New York Times, Mary Rodriguez said she estimates that her son's store sustained $100,000 in damage. The floor was piled high with broken liquor bottles and broken glass, rivers of wine pouring out under both the front and back doors when they arrived to the site, dark for lack of power, early on Sunday morning.

With schools closed, three generations of one family stopped for a bite at the lunch shop next to the liquor store. They indicated that they'd lost all their plates and glasses at home.

A local businessman viewing a one-story-high crack on the outside of the building where he leases space pointed to the visible bowing at the building's side which left a foot-wide gap between floor and wall. Accepting a sympathetic word graciously, he paused to praise the city's response thus far.

At home a mile away, he indicated that the family had made their way through a darkened house still creaking, floors scattered with broken belongings, to remove the children to the yard. That done, he returned to turn off the gas as a precaution, doing the same for several neighbors.

On the bright side

One pedestrian bridge has been closed, Jacques Larochelle, Napa's public works director told reporters. Larochelle said the fire station was recently retrofitted. "Had we not done that, we would have sustained huge damage to the fire station, too."

"The number of civilian casualties was small," said fire department spokesperson Mike Randolph. "It could have been so much worse."

Meantime, winery and tourism officials were quick to stress that farmers and winemakers are adept at dealing with Mother Nature's ways. They are looking forward to a successful harvest beginning and a return of visitors, as September events kick off California Wine Month.

Aftershocks experienced

On the subject of aftershocks, a US Geological Service worker in a hardhat said on Monday that possibilities were still "strong," although diminishing with each passing day, for this to occur. Indeed, reported four earthquakes were recorded in Napa County early on Tuesday morning, ranging from 2.8 to 3.9 in magnitude.

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