December 30 •
At 3:19 a.m. on Aug. 24, most Napans were sleeping the sleep of angels. A minute later, all hell broke loose.
At almost any other hour, the 6.0-magnitude quake would have produced vast numbers of injuries and likely deaths as buildings shook violently to the sound of locomotives roaring off the tracks.
Crockery smashed, furniture toppled, parked cars bounced down driveways, older homes buckled, landmark buildings shattered. And there we lay, terrified in the safety of our beds that suddenly felt anything but safe.
Big quakes are supposed to threaten the central Bay Area, not Napa, the place where people come for pleasure.
Yet on Aug. 24, Napa, American Canyon and parts of Vallejo got hit with the Bay Area’s strongest quake in a quarter century. The South Napa quake, as it is now known, became a national and international story. Images of Napa’s crippled downtown buildings shot around the world.
How strong is a 6.0-magnitude quake? Hundreds of millions of dollars in damages strong. Strong enough to crack thousands of walls and foundations, shatter a half dozen downtown landmarks, spill a sea of wine, buckle sidewalks and, as the weeks passed, snap hundreds of water lines.
The South Napa quake perpetrated destruction commonly associated with acts of war. And with the mayhem came post-quake psychological trauma.
For weeks after, many of us awoke in the middle of the night and replayed the quake track embedded in our brains.
And the aftershocks kept coming, a reminder that the earth beneath us — the now-infamous West Napa Fault — has a wild bent. On Thanksgiving Day, as we prepared our turkeys, a rude jolt struck, freezing us in place yet again.
Napa was declared a state disaster area, then a federal disaster area, qualifying residents and businesses for millions of dollars in grants and loans for rebuilding.
Before federal dollars began flowing, Napa Valley Vintners pledged $10 million in Wine Auction funds so the Napa Valley Community Foundation could begin local relief efforts.
By mid-December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported having made $8.8 million in household grants, while the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved over 500 home loans and 45 business loads totaling $21.2 million.
Local government and the wine industry estimated losses after the quake at more than $442 million, while a risk management firm later projected total damage at $1 billion.
The actual figure will never be known. Thousands of households and businesses are left to patch up as best they can, leaving for another day what to do with stucco cracks and the loss of the heirloom china.
Downtown Napa, a bleak scene of cracked and toppled masonry after the quake, is gradually looking like its old self.
Much of the chainlink is gone, most of the closed businesses have reopened and repairs are underway on nearly everything else.
While the physical evidence of the quake is disappearing, the ugly memories are still there. Our manmade environment no longer feels as sturdy as it did before Aug. 24.
Those insecurities are most pronounced when we wake up in the middle of the night. And the clock approaches 3:20.