A magnitude 5.2 earthquake on a previously unknown fault rumbled through California's wine country early Sunday, injuring about 40 people, knocking out power lines, spilling dishes from kitchen cupboards and sending startled residents running from their beds into the street.
Although most of the injuries were not serious, one young boy was in critical condition after the 1:36 a.m. quake near the town of Yountville in the Napa Valley. The area is about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco in the heart of the state's $33-billion-a-year grape-growing industry. The famed wine cellars, which many experts fear are vulnerable to a major temblor, appeared to weather the shaking unscathed.
Although earthquakes are not rare in the area, it was the strongest quake to rattle the towns of Napa and Yountville in decades, authorities said. However, damage was relatively minor, and by Sunday afternoon tourists were again crowding the region for wine-tasting treks during what business owners hope will be a profitable holiday weekend.
The Napa Valley Wine Train, which runs north from Napa into the heart of wine country, kept to its schedule, filled with tourists munching on a champagne brunch.
The most serious injury occurred when falling objects struck a 5-year-old in his Napa home. He was airlifted to Oakland Children's Hospital, where he spent more than three hours in surgery and was listed in critical condition.
A 41-year-old man was found unconscious by his wife in their home and was rushed to Queen of the Valley Hospital suffering from a skull fracture. He later regained consciousness and was in stable condition, said hospital nursing supervisor Linda Kinder. Kinder said a 37-year-old woman fractured a hip when she was thrown to the ground, and three elderly people were admitted suffering from dizziness and other stress-related ailments.
Residents described a violent jolt that lasted about 18 seconds and that was explosive enough to knock many from their beds, especially near the epicenter, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was six miles northwest of Napa, three miles southwest of Yountville and six miles northeast of Sonoma.
The quake shook residents in the cities of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Vallejo and Vacaville. It was felt as far away as San Francisco and Oakland.
"I thought it was the end of the world; nothing has ever hit Napa this bad," said Beau Jacks, 22, a restaurant bartender who was at home typing an e-mail to a Southern California friend when the quake struck.
Jacks said he and his mother began screaming as mirrors cracked, television sets smashed to the floor and every glass, dish, can and package tumbled from kitchen cabinets. Gene and Gail Lutz, who own a vineyard pest-control company, were shaken awake and scrambled from bed just as their heavy oak headboard crashed down. Gene Lutz said a box of coins weighing at least 6 pounds fell onto the pillow where his head had been.
"It felt like the house was hit by a train," he said.
"We kept bouncing and bouncing and bouncing and then everything all over the house just came crashing down," added Gail.
The brick front entryway and stairs leading to their home buckled and all their fine china and crystal were destroyed, although their everyday dishes were spared.
At least 10,000 people were without electricity for several hours after the quake, but most power was restored by noon.
Authorities reported about 30 gas leaks, but there were no fires and apparently little damage to Napa Valley's infrastructure. An inspection of public buildings and roadways revealed only a few minor cracks, said Peter Dreier, a spokesman for the city of Napa.
The two major routes into the Napa Valley, state highways 29 and 121, were open with traffic signals operating and no intersections blocked.
Dreier said the city had declared a local emergency and was keeping mutual aid emergency strike teams in the area in case of aftershocks. Two mild shocks were reported in the first few hours, both under 2 magnitude.
However, the Geological Survey issued an aftershock advisory saying that the chances were 20% that a strong aftershock, over magnitude 4, would be felt in the Napa Valley in the next seven days.
The quake was several miles east of a possible northern extension of the Hayward fault, which quake scientists only recently said they felt was now less prone to a major rupture than they had thought in the past.
Scores of tourists apparently took to the road after the quake, seeking less shifty ground, according to the California Highway Patrol. The Napa Valley Marriott hotel in Napa was evacuated for a short time as a precaution until the structure could be inspected, said a hotel employee. A few San Francisco area residents cut their long weekends short and went home after the quake, she said.
The quake may have rattled the region's fabled wine vintners, but few reported even minor damage.