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Couple say earthquake ‘felt like it went on for an eternity’

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Falling televisions and table lamps shattered the quiet in California’s Napa Valley early Sunday.

Mandy McGovern awoke to her husband, Jim, shielding her with his body, warning her to stay down.

Their hotel room was shaking violently. Screams could be heard on the street below and from nearby rooms. Everything around her seemed to be breaking.

“They say it lasted for only 20 seconds or 30 seconds. It felt like it went on for an eternity,” Mandy McGovern said.

The McGoverns, Center Grove area residents, found themselves at the center of the most powerful earthquake to strike northern California in 25 years. Despite being deeply scared, the couple escaped the natural disaster without injury.

The couple are back in Indiana but remain shaken by the experience.

“I’m sure the days will go on, and the anxiety will lift. But I don’t ever want to do that again,” Mandy McGovern said.

The earthquake struck at 3:20 a.m. Sunday. Water mains ruptured, flooding streets. Gas lines split, igniting fires. Historic buildings and the region’s famous wineries were damaged.

More than 170 people were treated for injuries in the quake, though no one was killed.

Measuring 6.0 magnitude on the Richter scale, it was the strongest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay area since a 6.9-magnitude quake in 1989.

The McGoverns had flown to Napa Valley for the weekend’s IndyCar race, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Jim McGovern is an executive with OneAmerica Financial Partners, which is a sponsor for driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, and the couple had flown to California with clients for business.

They were staying at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa and were sleeping when the quake struck.

“My first reaction was my husband throwing himself over me,” Mandy McGovern said. “The room was shaking back and forth, and I remember thinking that the ceiling was going to come down.”

The sounds erupting around her were terrifying, she said. People were screaming, and the building groaned and creaked. Glass seemed to break all around them.

The shaking was so forceful that the bathroom fixtures ripped off the floor, flooding the room.

“It was deafening. It was violent,” she said. “Unless you’ve ever been through one, you cannot imagine the force.”

Her sense of time during the earthquake was warped, so Mandy McGovern is unsure how long before her husband yelled that they had to get out of the room.

They smelled natural gas and worried about an explosion or fire.

When they left the hotel room, they and other guests were met with chaos.

The exterior of the hotel and roads surrounding it were cracked and broken. Barefoot people in robes and pajamas huddled together. Sirens wailed.

“Most of the people staying at the hotel were visitors in town for the race. They had never experienced anything like this,” she said.

Because they had brought guests with them, Jim and Mandy McGovern rushed through the crowds to get their group together. Everyone was safe and uninjured.

As gas lines were turned off and the hotel was determined safe, the group met to discuss their plans. The IndyCar race would go on as scheduled Sunday afternoon, but they all decided to change their flights and head back to Indiana early.

“We didn’t know if there would be bridges out, we didn’t know how roads would be. All we knew was that we didn’t want to not be able to get home that night,” Mandy McGovern said.

The only experience she had with earthquakes was the tremor that hit Indiana in 2008. That was far more gentle and a novelty for people in Johnson County.

It was nothing like what she felt in California.

The first night after they returned home and slept in their own bed, Mandy McGovern was too nervous to fall asleep. She is confident that feeling will fade, but it still seems too raw to forget.

“That first night, I laid down, and as soon as I closed my eyes, I could feel the anxiety and my heart rate. I could envision the room moving,” she said. “I had to stay fixated on the smoke detectors until my eyes closed themselves.”

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