Thursday, February 21, 2008

Earthquake Of 6.0 Magnitude Felt Over Five Western States, Seriously Damages Historic Downtown District Of Wells, Nevada

Virtually every home and business in Wells sustained some damage on Thursday, February 21st, 2008 when a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck at 7:16 A.M. MST approximately 11 miles southeast of the city, which is located 50 miles east of Elko. Primary story published by the Elko (NV) Daily Free Press. The KSL Channel 5 Salt Lake website contains a photo album of 23 pictures. Additional stories by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, the Idaho Statesman, and KTVX Channel 4 Salt Lake..

Here's a YouTube video showing the action. The part filmed at the gas station is particularly fascinating:

Up to 23 buildings were declared severely damaged. The greatest damage was reported in the city's historic Front Street downtown district. Fortunately, only three injuries were reported and nobody has been reported missing. The quake was centered in a sparsely populated area known as Town Creek Flats, 5 miles east-northeast of Wells near the Nevada-Utah line.

Tom Turk, a regional forester with the Nevada Division of Forestry and the public information officer at the incident, said the city of approximately 1,600 residents is virtually shut down. “Schools are closed, schools were damaged,” said Turk as teams of firefighters branched out to assess damage. By mid-morning, the Elko County Commission declared a state of emergency in Wells. Nevada Governor John Gibbons toured the area later in the day and declared it a disaster area.

Interstate 80 and Highway 93 remain open, but off-ramps into the city are closed to non-residents. Identification will be checked by law enforcement positioned at every off-ramp. “We're asking residents to put signs in windows telling us they're OK,” said Turk. “There are 700 residential structures and every one of them, and every business structure has sustained damage.” And, around 5 P.M. MST, a 4.6 aftershock struck the area. KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas reports there have been a total of 14 aftershocks.

According to a later story in the Elko Daily Free Press, one of the most severely-damaged structures is Wells High School (7-12). The gymnasium is likely to be condemned and other damage has closed the school indefinitely. One hundred and thirty-five students have been displaced. Elko County Sheriff Dale Lotspeich said a rough estimate to replace the building would be upward of $40 million. The elementary school suffered minor damage but is still usable.

In a separate story, KSL reports that they received reports of shaking from as far south as Delta, Utah all the way up into Idaho. The quake was also felt in Southern California and Oregon. However, there were no reports of damage outside of Nevada. But the University of Utah said that how you feel it is dependent somewhat on the type of ground your house sits on.

KSL also talked to the University of Utah. According to Dr. Kristine Pankow, assistant director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, says that if you felt today's quake strongly, you were either in a multi-story building or a house probably built on soft, unconsolidated soils. If you didn't feel it at all, you're probably sitting on rock.

At magnitude 6, the Nevada quake released a lot of energy. "A magnitude 6 earthquake is equivalent to about 56 million kilograms of TNT, which is larger than the Hiroshima bomb", said Dr. Pankow. She also stated that had the epicenter been here in the Salt Lake Valley, there would have been extensive damage and a significant number of injuries.

Today's quake is yet another example of how the Great Basin, from the Wasatch Fault all the way to California, is stretching outward, even upward like a piece of taffy at the rate of a quarter of an inch per year. Sometimes it breaks, like it did today near Wells. But while the basin stretches, the Wasatch Fault is not moving at all. Strain is building. Seismologists say eventually the twisting and stretching will break the taffy here. Pankow says, "There's going to be an earthquake along the Wasatch Fault at some point in time."

And this is why Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. reacted today. He expressed particular concern about the lifecycle of school buildings.

Back in April 2006, the Deseret Morning News presented a five-part special report on the possible impact of a 7.0 earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley. Wasatch Front residents might find it a good time to review these stories, accompanied by some good graphics. The links are still valid. The first report is published HERE. Here are the remaining reports:

Unreinforced Masonry, April 17th 2006
Shaken To Pieces, April 18th, 2006
Neighbors Mobilize, April 19th, 2006
Ready For Big Quake, April 20th, 2006

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