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Monday, December 09, 2019

Napa Earthquake: Damage Assessment Won’t Come Easy

By David DeBolt, San Jose Mercury News

NAPA, Calif. — Power is back on citywide, business is trickling back into downtown, and the first day of school arrives Wednesday. As life in some sense returns to the North Bay after Sunday’s magnitude-6.0 earthquake and the subsequent days of emergency recovery, residents in Napa, Vallejo and American Canyon are taking stock of the damage, and asking: How much will it cost to repair and rebuild?

They aren’t finding a quick answer.

The estimates, by some accounts, could be in the hundreds of millions. But local, state and federal officials meeting Tuesday to tally up the damage left behind from Sunday’s earthquake faced obstacles to getting a clear figure, Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce said.

Some buildings, including the Napa municipal courthouse, remain too dangerous to enter, so no one knows the actual damage. Leaders have sent out surveys to private companies, but have not heard back from many, Luce said. And aftershocks that shook the region Tuesday meant further evaluation of some structures might be needed.

Half of the region’s wineries responding to a survey reported total damages estimated at $38 million. The threshold for the region to qualify for federal relief is $55 million, the amount of public buildings in the region that are not covered by insurance, Luce said.

“It’s one thing to know if you have damage, it’s another thing to know the estimate,” Luce said. “Most people are still picking up the glass. I don’t want to venture a guess cause I’ll be eating my words.”

In Napa, the number of buildings with red tags, signaling that they are uninhabitable, rose to 103, and 20 more were expected to be added to the list late Tuesday, officials said. Another 500 were yellow-tagged, meaning they could be entered for recovery and cleanup, but were not safe to inhabit until repairs were made.

In Vallejo, initial damage estimates were at $5.2 million, but that figure is expected to grow. Twelve buildings were red-tagged and another 75 were yellow-tagged.

In the coming days, Napa’s downtown, depending on the block, will be surrounded by fences or frequented by diners. One thousand feet of fencing has been ordered to be put up near crumbling buildings, which could include the post office, historic courthouse, Goodman Library and multiple structures on Brown Street. Turn a corner onto Main Street, however, and several businesses are welcoming customers.

“They keep opening up,” Napa Mayor Jill Techel said. “Every time I walk down the street, there’s a new store open.”

Meanwhile, more Earth shaking returned to the region Tuesday morning — a 3.9-magnitude jolt at 5:33 a.m. and three other aftershocks within a little more than one hour, causing cracks in area highways. In all, 80 aftershocks have been recorded in the major quake’s wake, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The number of those injured rose by one to 209. A woman hit in the head by debris during the earthquake but who did not go to the hospital suffered a seizure Monday evening and underwent surgery, according to city officials.

Officials closed lanes on Highways 29 and 37 on Tuesday to repair damage exacerbated by the aftershocks.

Crews were working in Napa and Vallejo to repair dozens of reported water line breaks.

After two days of canceled classes, Napa Valley Unified School officials said that schools would be open on Wednesday.

AFP Photo/Josh Edelson


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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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