The South Napa Quake: Standing By Words

Wendell Berry   Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, farmer, and cultural critic who speaks eloquently of the human condition.

An excerpt from one of his books, Standing by Words, was printed in 1991,  to honor North Point Press.

Berry’s words deepen the many acts of generosity, kindness, and yes, love, demonstrated to those affected by the South Napa earthquake six days ago.

Here is the excerpt, with slight editing.

What can turn us from this deserted future, back into the sphere of our being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and the unborn? I think it is love. I am perforce aware how badly and embarrassingly that word now lies on the page. For we have learned at once to overuse it, abuse it, and hold it in suspicion. But I do not mean any kind of abstract love, which is probably a contradiction in terms, but particular love for particular things, places, creatures and people, requiring stands and acts, showing its successes or failures in practical or tangible effects.

And it implies a responsibility, just as particular, not grim or merely dutiful, but rising out of generosity. I think this sort of love defines the effective range of human intelligence, the range within which its works can be dependably beneficent.

Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows.

One cannot love the future or anything in it, for nothing is known there. And one cannot unselfishly make a future for someone else. Love for the future is self-love – love for the present self, projected and magnified into the future, and it is an irremediable loneliness.

Because love is not abstract, it does not lead to trends or percentages or general behavior. It leads, on the contrary, to the perception that there is no such thing as general behavior. There is no abstract action. Love proposes the work of settled households and communities, whose innovations come about in response to immediate conditions…

Calamity has brought heartbreaking loss to the Napa Valley and to Vallejo. But it has also brought heaps of  the “particular love” that is “moved for the good at hand”, that Berry illuminates so well for us.


The South Napa Earthquake: Mother Earth’s Timing Rocks

 Loma Prieta 5th and Townsend SF Picture1     1989 Loma Prieta 5:04 PM. 5th and Townsend, S. F.

Good timing is everything.

Timing makes all the difference in sports,  comedy routines,  midway games,  near misses and earthquakes.

At 5:04 PM on October 17, 1989, five cars were lined up outside a five story brick building on Townsend street in San Francisco, their occupants waiting for loved ones to emerge from the handsome brick structure.  Within seconds, those vehicles were crushed by bricks falling from the unreinforced brick building.

A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, killing one person. A portion of the Cypress Freeway in Oakland pancaked, crushing cars and killing 41 occupants.  The damage to San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway would cause it’s dismantling.  Gas from ruptured pipelines fed large fires in San Francisco’s Marina District

Cypress Freeway Oakland Pancaked after Loma Prieta           
1989 Loma Prieta 5:04 PM Cypress Freeway Oakland

When the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake struck 60 miles south of San Francisco, freeways, bridges, buildings, pipelines and highways built on silty soils or with design or maintenance vulnerabilities, collapsed all over the bay area.

Twenty five years later, the harvest had come early to the Napa Valley.  Visitors from around the world enjoyed a long day of wine tasting, fine art and dining, touring and spa treatments. Hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants were booked.

At 3:20 AM on Sunday, August 24, 2014, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Napa Valley’s visitors and residents  awake. In Napa’s historic district, bricks, and glass fell from vulnerable buildings onto empty sidewalks and streets. Foundations and historic buildings fractured. Water and gas lines ruptured. Furniture, glassware, and TVs upended and crashed.

Thousands of bottles of wine lay in ruin.  Chimneys fell.  Cupboard contents dived to the floor. Over two hundred were treated at Queen of the Valley Hospital. Three were very seriously injured. But there was no loss of life.

At 3:20 AM, it was too early for winery workers to be tending the massive wine barrels and casks that were hurled helter-skelter to the ground, injuring no one.

Centered on a tributary of the San Andreas Fault, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, 22 times more powerful than the South Napa earthquake of August 24, 2014, struck at 5:04 PM, shaking a huge urban area. The 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta,  caused 3757 injuries and 63 deaths, the latter primarily due to collapsing freeway structures at rush hour.  In 1989 dollars, property damage topped 6 billion.

In Napa’s wine country, we are counting irreplaceable losses. Reference wines, rare vintages, historic structures and some homes.  Missing pets. Lost jobs. Injuries, both physical and emotional. Treasured belongings. Now, even scarcer housing, Economic and personal losses that some will be unable to surmount.

Yet in the most chaotic moments, Napa Valley’s citizens, its friends, neighbors and workers rushed in to guide strangers to safety, shore up sagging structures, share food and water, shelter and personal items, find lost pets, quiet jangled nerves, donate food, money and expertise, and to offer the needed comfort of caring and companionship.

And our city and county governments, along with utilities, neighboring municipalities, non-profits, and volunteers, fought fires, restored power in record time, quickly repaired water, gas and sewer lines, opened shelters, cordoned off and monitored damaged areas, cared for the injured and infirm,  provided water, food and shelter, inspected buildings and kept us informed.

Mother Earth was good to us.  There was no better time for her to have relieved pressure at a fault line than at 3:20 AM on a Sunday morning.

Still,  many are hurting. And, we have many miles to go before we sleep peacefully again.

The Napa Quake: Flying and Falling Objects

Drop. Cover. Hold On.Drop. Cover. Hold On.

This Drop  Cover and Hold On graphic is from Earthquake Country Alliance,, as is the following content.

Taking the proper actions, such as “Drop, Cover, and Hold On”, can save lives and reduce the risk injury. Everyone, everywhere, should learn and practice what to do during an earthquake, whether you’re at home, work, school or traveling.

In MOST situations, you will reduce your chance of injury if you:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

During earthquakes…

The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. To stay away from this danger zone, stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.

Indoors: Drop, Cover, and Hold On Drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops. If you are not near a desk or table, drop to the floor against the interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass. Do not go outside!

In bed: If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

In a high-rise: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.

Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.

Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.

In a stadium or theater: Stay at your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.

Near the shore: Drop, Cover, and Hold On until the shaking stops. Estimate how long the shaking lasts. If severe shaking lasts 20 seconds or more, immediately evacuate to high ground as a tsunami might have been generated by the earthquake. Move inland 3 kilometers (2 miles) or to land that is at least 30 meters (100 feet) above sea level immediately. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk quickly, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris and other hazards.

Below a dam: Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood-zone information and have prepared an evacuation plan.


The Napa Quake: Aftershocks and Afterthoughts for My Napa Neighbors

A lot of aftershocks have originated from the West Napa Fault since the 6.0 magnitude temblor early Sunday morning, including a 3.9 a few days ago.

Will there be another big earthquake? You betcha. The next quake could be the big one the USGS has been warning about for years. It could originate from the Hayward/Rogers Creek Fault up to 50 miles away.  Although not in Napa’s backyard,  a quake of 6.7 or greater magnitude as predicted by USGS could cause more damage in Napa and many other areas, than Sunday’s quake.

There is no getting around it. You need to be ready for earthquakes.

On Sunday, Alta Heights and other areas, particularly in east Napa that are built on bedrock, fared better, in many cases far better, than our Napa neighbors whose homes are sited in the sedimentary (soft and loose) soils deposited by the Napa River and creeks that have meandered through the valley’s floor for centuries. Or those whose homes are directly over or near the West Napa Fault.

Of course structural damage is related to many other factors including type and quality of home construction, presence of seismic retrofitting, termite damage/dryrot or unreinforced masonry, proximity to the quake’s epicenter, duration of shaking, and of course the quake’s magnitude.

Do take care of yourselves emotionally, but don’t forget that your primary concern must be safety. Many injuries from quakes are caused by people walking on broken glass or being hit by flying or falling objects, and Sunday’s quake was no exception.

How do you minimize injuries? By dropping to the ground the moment you feel the earthquake, and crawling to the nearest sheltering cover such as a desk or table (not glass), and then holding on until the shaking stops and for a few moments after. A doorway is not recommended for shelter in an earthquake. If there is no table or desk to crawl under, get close to an interior wall (no windows),make your body as small as possible and cover your head and neck with your hands or a briefcase, large book, cookie sheet – whatever you can reach after you have dropped to the ground.

If you are in bed, put your pillow over your head to protect your head and face. Before the next quake, move anything directly over your head away from the bed. Move or secure heavy objects that may fall over and onto places where you sleep, eat, watch TV, work on your computer, etc.

Move chemicals and toxic substances out of your house. Place them on ground level, not on upper shelves. Earthquakes can make homes unlivable due to spilled chemicals. Put earthquake secure latches on cupboards. Kitchens and garages are dangerous places to be in an earthquake due to objects falling from high shelves.

Over 100 water pipes or mains were damaged by the quake. Do you have an emergency water supply? We can live without food, but not without water.

There is a lot to do to prepare. There is no better time than now.

Kudos to the City and County of Napa staff, responders and utility providers. Fantastic job.

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