Utah Just Had Its Biggest Earthquake Since 1992. Now What?
Updated 5:36 p.m. MDT 3/18/2020
The 5.7 earthquake that shook Salt Lake County and the region Wednesday morning had Utahns already anxious from the coronavirus even more on edge.
What needs to happen first?
Don’t panic. The Division of Emergency Management recommends checking gas meters and walking around dwellings and buildings to assess damage. Inspect — by smelling or listening — for gas leaks.
Dominion Energy has no reports of service interruptions after the earthquake in Magna. The utility company says not to turn off gas to homes or businesses unless there is structural damage, a gas leak is heard or smelled, there’s a fire or the company requests gas lines be turned off.
Gas lines should only be shut off if it doesn't jeopardize safety. Otherwise, evacuate the building or area immediately and don’t use electricity, light a flame, start a vehicle or anything else that could cause a spark near a leak. But once off, don’t try to turn the meter back on. For more information, visit Earthquake Preparedness & Natural Gas.
Aftershocks, including a 4.6 shake just after 1 p.m. Wednesday, could continue in the coming days and even weeks. That is normal after an event like this one.
We have released an aftershock forecast. Be aware that no one can predict exact time/place of an event, including aftershocks. Our forecasts give us understanding of chances of having more events within a given time period in affected area. (typo fixed) https://t.co/k7ojFmMnt8 pic.twitter.com/QblHYqWebQ— USGS (@USGS) March 18, 2020
Those aftershocks are nerve-wracking. Is there another big earthquake about to happen?
Not likely. The Utah Division of Emergency Management shot down a rumor circulating earlier Wednesday that seismologists were predicting that another large earthquake was imminent. Earthquakes cannot be predicted, and officials said they are “95% certain” the quake this morning was the main one.
That said, there is a small probability of a larger earthquake, which would make Wednesday’s temblor a foreshock, according to the University of Utah’s Seismograph Stations. But officials, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, are not ordering evacuations.
It’s a good time to assemble an emergency preparedness kit, which can be kept by a door or even stored away from a dwelling, in the event of a devastating earthquake.
Local officials ask that Salt Lake County residents remain at home and allow first responders to survey damage. They recommend taking down breakable items from high places and securing water heaters to studs to prevent damage during an earthquake.
The Division of Emergency Management also advised keeping a flashlight and a pair of sturdy shoes by the bed. Text before calling when checking on others, and have an emergency communication channel in case phone lines become congested.
And when the next big earthquake comes, people should drop to the ground, take cover and hold on.
“A sturdy table or desk, that's your best place to be,” Joe Dougherty, an emergency management spokesman, said.
Earthquakes of magnitude larger than 7.5 are unlikely to occur in Utah. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake is not possible in Utah.— UUSS (@UUSSquake) March 18, 2020
Power has been off for hours. Why? And when will it come back?
More than 73,000 people lost power as outages peaked, but that number had dropped to around 3,600 by 4 p.m. Wednesday. For those who are still without power, prepare for up to 72 hours without electricity, according to Rocky Mountain Power. Use low battery mode on cell phones, and use a battery-powered radio for news and updates.
When the ground shakes as it has Wednesday, it can cause circuit breakers at substations to open, Rocky Mountain Power Spokesman Dave Eskelsen said. That’s what happened Wednesday at the Magna substation, Morton Court substation in downtown Salt Lake and the Terminal substation near the airport. The Terminal substation, near where the ground shaking was the heaviest — is the main transmission point, Eskelsen said. The downtown Salt Lake City location includes underground circuits, which are more difficult to assess for damage.
“We haven’t had one of these in a while. So it’s gonna take some time to get everyone back online,” Eskelsen said. “The local physical damage is the determining factor in the length of outage.”
To report outages, visit rockymountainpower.net/outages-safety or text OUT to 759677.
First, coronavirus, now this? How are hospitals dealing with it?
Intermountain Healthcare facilities and clinics are treating patients as normal, as most facilities had no damage or only minor issues, according to hospital officials.
A few people came to hospital emergency departments seeking care for minor injuries related to the earthquake and were treated and released.
Visitor restrictions related to COVID-19 remain in place at all Intermountain hospitals, clinics, InstaCares and physician offices in Utah and Idaho, along with social distancing protocols.
A temporary Utah COVID-19 Information Line has been set up at 1-844-442-5224.
Where Is Help Available If Needed?
The Red Cross is fully mobilized to assist people, with an evacuation center at Valley Junior High School, 4195 South 3200 West, in West Valley City. The Red Cross also offers safety tips via its Earthquake Mobile App, which is available for free on the App Store or text GETQUAKE to 9099. They’re also on Twitter @RedCrossUtah or visit redcross.org/local/utah.
Where Is More Real-Time Info Available?
Twitter is a great resource. For information on earthquakes throughout Utah, follow @UUSSquake. Or visit quake.utah.edu or earthquake.usgs.gov. For information on Utah’s Division of Emergency Management and disaster preparedness, follow @UtahEmergency or go to dem.utah.gov. Tune into KUER or follow us at @kuer for more coverage.
Andrew Becker is executive editor for special projects at KUER. Follow Andrew on Twitter @ABeckerKUER
— Jessica Lowell and Ross Terrell contributed this reporting.