California Wine Country Hit by Strongest Quake Since 1989

The strongest earthquake to hit northern California in 25 years rocked the state’s wine-country region, damaging historic buildings and sending residents scurrying from their homes.

The 6.1-magnitude quake in the Napa-Sonoma County region was reported at 3:20 a.m. local time. Its epicenter was 51 miles (82 kilometers) southwest of Sacramento, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on its website.

KGO-TV in San Francisco said 89 people were injured, three critically, though no deaths were reported. Power was out, and fires were reported in north Napa, along with many waterline breaks, the city of Napa said in a posting on its website. Unreinforced masonry buildings in downtown, including the historic courthouse and Goodman Library, were severely damaged.

The Napa-Sonoma area is home to one of California’s best-known wine-growing regions. Napa County has 789 licensed wineries which had sales of $5.5 billion in 2011, according to the Napa Valley Vinters, a trade association.

Aftershocks with a magnitude of as strong as 3.6 were recorded after the quake, the USGS said. Amtrak, the U.S. national passenger railroad, said it suspended service on four routes through the Bay Area until tracks and bridges are inspected.

“This quake definitely has the potential for damage and some casualties,” said Wendy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the geological survey in Golden, Colorado, in a telephone interview.

Loma Prieta

The temblor was the strongest in the Bay Area since the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, which struck during a World Series baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, Baldwin said. She said there was a similar magnitude event of 5.8 in 1980 that struck 45 miles southeast of the current epicenter.

In Sonoma County, some residents were sent fleeing from their homes, the Associated Press reported. Camille Freking, speaking from Hercules, California, told CNN residents there felt a rolling sensation that lasted about 30 seconds when the quake struck.

More than 51,000 homes and businesses were without power, according to PG&E Corp.’s website. The communities hardest hit were Napa and Sonoma, the company said.

Emergency Declaration

California Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement today the state’s Office of Emergency Services is working with local and state emergency managers in the area.

Baldwin said aftershocks will occur for several weeks. She said there is a 5 percent to 10 percent chance that an aftershock could reach magnitude 5 or greater.

The USGS said today there was a “low likelihood” of casualties and put out an orange alert for economic losses, which means “significant damage” is likely and the disaster may be widespread. The quake’s depth was 6.7 miles, the USGS said.

The California Highway Patrol in San Francisco said there was no reported road damage in Marin and Santa Rosa. It didn’t have any immediate reports of damage to roads in South Bay, the Peninsula and East Bay, according to Twitter postings.