Bill Linder was standing barefoot on hot asphalt outside his home on Patty Way, in the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park, some 12 hours after three neighboring homes were reduced to twisted sheets of aluminum and unrecognizable debris.
“I was wide awake,” he recalled. “I couldn’t sleep. Then it hit. I thought it was a plane crash. It was louder than crap.”
Linder said he was out of the house in a flash, but the house directly across the street “began spurting flames. Everybody got out alive, but there was no water pressure” because of a broken water main.
Linder said when fire trucks arrived, they at first didn’t have a water tender, so efforts to beat back the flames were initially futile.
Another neighbor, Paula Scotland, said when she woke up, “everything was falling, I could hear things falling all around me. Then I heard an explosion-like sound, and I was worried about my neighbor across the street. I could hear her calling for her cat.”
Scotland said she and her son went to the neighbor’s house to help find the missing cat, but the flames grew. “My son said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here. This place is going to go up.’”
And it did.
Three contiguous homes along Patty Way were reduced to charred ruins, but other mobile homes, mere feet away, were saved by firefighters who prevented what could have been a park-wide conflagration.
Linder said he was from Seattle and lived through the 2001 Nisqually quake, a massive event registering 6.8 on the moment magnitude scale and lasting 45 seconds.
“This is my second major quake,” he said Sunday. “I’m done with them.”
Not so the television news crews, who were set up in clusters of technical encampments on the periphery of the burned out mobile homes, satellite vans nearby, cameras sitting on tripods, news reporters waiting for the next update to do stand-ups against the backdrop of the charred ruins.
The scene in downtown Napa was altogether different, as a four-block area was cordoned off in a maze of yellow and red police tape, denoting buildings damaged by the quake that were not safe to enter, while piles of glittering broken window glass were strewn along sidewalks like ceremonial mounds.
The stately United States Post Office shed chunks of its elaborate, brick-faced façade and the two-story rows of vertical windows fronting Second Street presented row after row of shattered glass.
Further down, the Carpe Diem Wine Bar looked like a scene from the Gaza strip, a gaping hole in the third story as pieces of ceiling dangled over a shower of bricks covering the sidewalk, the restaurant’s awning torn free and leaning against the building.
Carpe Diem was one of 49 buildings red-tagged as of Monday, meaning they are unsafe to occupy or enter. Up and down the streets of Napa’s historic district, which has been enjoying a recent renaissance, buildings were sheathed in plywood or scarred with broken bricks.
The historic Goodman Library, built in 1901, lost large blocks of decorative stone from its roof façade.
The Lucero Olive Oil store lost an estimated 500 bottles of gourmet oil, much of which flowed out the store’s front door, across the sidewalk and into the street. An aggressive clean-up was nearly finished by the end of the day Sunday.
At the United Methodist Church on Randolph Street, an entire section of the upper story wall separated form the roof, leaning out toward the sidewalk.
And all over downtown Napa, it was hard to find a brick chimney standing intact.
At the historic Migliavocca Mansion on Fourth Street, a massive section of brick chimney separated from the side of the building, and fell intact on the lawn.
Cost estimates are still being compiled, but by Monday some reports put the value of structural restoration combined with ruined wine at close to $1 billion.
And as of Monday, despite nearly 180 hospital admissions, most to Napa’s Queen of the Valley, there had been no deaths and only a handful of injuries listed as critical.