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5.7 Magnitude Quake Shakes Utah, Largest Since 1992

Map of 3/18 earthquake
USGS Shakemap.
Shaking could be felt in Pocatello, Idaho, Evanston, Wyo. and Mammoth Springs, Calif. according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Updated 7:32 p.m. MDT 3/18/2020 

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake, centered 3 miles north of Magna, shook the Wasatch Front at 7:09 a.m. MDT Wednesday, the largest tremblor in Utah since 1992

The earthquake left more than 73,000 people without power as outages peaked, burst a water main at the Salt Lake International Airport and reportedly caused “moderate” damage to buildings. The shaking could be felt in Pocatello, Idaho, Evanston, Wyo., and Mammoth Springs, Calif., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By late afternoon power had been restored to all but about 3,600, according to Rocky Mountain Power.

As of 4:30 p.m. there had been 90 aftershocks, the strongest of which registered 4.6, according to the Utah Geological Survey. At a depth of 6 miles, the earthquake is considered “fairly shallow,” which is why it was felt more on the surface, said Mike Hylland, deputy director of the Utah Geological Survey. 

Earthquakes are not uncommon in the state — there are about 700 to 800 a year, according to the Division of Emergency Management. But Utah has only had 16 sixteen earthquakes that were 5.5 or bigger since pioneers arrived in 1847. Wednesday’s earthquake was the largest once since 1992, when one registered 5.9 and was centered in St. George.

The state’s Division of Emergency Management recommended people walk around their home to look for damage, including to gas or power lines, spokesman Joe Dougherty said. 

"Spend some time near your gas line to see if you can smell natural gas escaping or hear it. That would be a sign of danger,” he said. “And in only those cases should you consider shutting off your natural gas."

Salt Lake City International Airport has re-opened. Earlier in the day officialsgrounded flights and evacuated terminals and concourses as the Federal Aviation Administration shut down the airport’s control tower, according to airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said a water main broke in Concourse D but no damage was reported on the airfield. 

FrontRunner service, which had been stopped between Salt Lake Central and Murray due to damage on the line, has started operating at reduced speeds with some delays. As of 5:15 p.m., TRAX service had been restored on all three lines, but with delays expected as trains return to their regular schedules, according to the Utah Transit Authority.

The Salt Lake Temple, which is undergoing a seismic upgrade, sustained minor damage, according to a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

No workers were injured, but work stopped for the day to assess damage. The trumpet on the Angel Moroni statue fell off, and there is minor displacement of some of the temple's smaller spire stones. 

Near downtown Salt Lake City, a construction crew picked up loose bricks that fell off a late 19th century building being converted to mixed-use office space at the corner of 400 West and 500 South.

"We're actually in the process of doing a voluntary seismic upgrade to prevent this type of stuff from happening,” Timothy Foster, director of operations for Makers Line, the construction company doing the retrofitting work. “A portion of the seismic upgrade was actually bracing that wall to make sure this exactly didn't happen."

Erin Nelson of Salt Lake City said she was about to give her dog a bath in her downtown apartment when everything started to wobble. Originally from the Midwest, she thought it was thunder at first. 

“The building just started to sway,” Nelson said. “You couldn’t stand up. It felt like you were on a boat. Stuff just flew across my apartment. There’s a bunch of broken stuff up there right now.”

The University of Utah canceled classes, which had already gone online in response to the coronavirus. University officials said online classes would be held Thursday. 

Salt Lake schools, already closed because of the pandemic, announced it had stopped delivery of meals, foodboxes and laptops/iPads because of the earthquake. In an email statement, school officials said they had sent staff home and were evaluating the damage and safety risks to district buildings. The district anticipated food delivery and other programs would resume Thursday.

Gov. GaryHerbert also tweeted that the Utah Department of Health’s state lab and coronavirus hotline is down. The poison control center has also been evacuated.

State liquor stores from Logan to Draper and Heber City to Tooele also closed to assess damage. Several stores did experience broken bottles falling from the shelves and racks, according to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Stores in the earthquake zone will be closed until inspectors can guarantee their safety.

Jon Reed, Ross Terrell, Nate Hegyi, Lee Hale, Sonja Hutson and Elaine Clark contributed to this reporting.

Andrew Becker is executive editor for special projects at KUER. Follow Andrew on Twitter @ABeckerKUER

Andrew Becker joined KUER in 2018 as the host and producer of an upcoming investigative podcast before becoming news director. He spent more than a decade covering border, homeland and national security issues, most recently for The Center for Investigative Reporting + Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse, with stories ranging from corruption and the expanded use of drones along the U.S.-Mexico border to police militarization and the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, terrorism and drug trafficking. His reporting has appeared in news outlets such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and PBS/FRONTLINE, been cited in U.S. Supreme Court and District Court briefs and highlighted by John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight.” His work has been recognized by the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and been nominated for a National Emmy, among others. He has taught at the University of Utah, and won fellowships from John Jay College in New York City and the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He also sits on an advisory board for the National Center on Disability and Journalism, based at Arizona State University. He received a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.
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