In an editorial published May 6th, 2008, the Provo Daily Herald, in discussing the potential effects of a 7.5 earthquake in the Utah Valley, speculates that both the Jordanelle and Deer Valley Dams could possibly give way and inundate parts of Provo.
The editorial is in response to an upsurge in interest and concern about earthquakes as a result of the February 21st Wells quake which damaged hundreds of structures, as well as the swarm of quakes afflicting Reno, Nevada during the past two months, centered around the suburb of Mogul, just six miles west of the Reno city center on I-80. Other Utah media outlets responded by discussing the possible effects of a similar earthquake in northern Utah, as reflected in this previous post, but they focused their discussion on Salt Lake, Davis, and Weber Counties, omitting Utah County from the discussion.
Unfortunately, the Wasatch Fault extends far beyond Salt Lake. It runs 240 miles from Malad, Idaho, through Salt Lake Valley and down through Utah County to Nephi. And in April, the U.S. Geological Survey published new hazard maps estimating that a quake of 7.4 magnitude -- a large but not huge temblor -- could devastate several Wasatch Fault segments at once, a worse scenario than ever expected before. Worse yet, experts believe that a big earthquake, of a magnitude from 6.5 to 7.5, is 200 years overdue. They project that a big quake hits on the average of once every 400 years, and point out that the last one was 600 years ago.
Specifically, here's how the Daily Herald sees the possible outcome:
So what would happen if a 7.5 magnitude quake were to ripple along the Wasatch Fault, through Salt Lake City and Utah Valley?
It would not only rock the ground, but liquefy wet, sandy soil, turning into a sort of quicksand that would pull down other houses. In Utah Valley alone, 6,000 buildings could crumble, with thousands more damaged; the toll of deaths and injuries in older student apartment buildings alone could be devastating. Highways would crack, and bridges on I-15 might collapse. Ruptured gas and electric lines might spark fires, adding to the chaos. With highways cut, and police and fire stations in ruins, help could be slow in coming.
If the Jordanelle Dam and Deer Creek dams broke, a torrent of water, mud, boulders and debris would thunder down Provo Canyon and smash into what was left of the city below.
One predication estimated 7,600 people would die and damages would reach $18 billion.
Although the state is beginning to take some precautions, and, according to a previous Daily Herald story, one Orem insurance agent said he now receives between 25 and 50 inquiries per month about earthquake insurance, with half or more people actually purchasing a policy, there is more to be done. Earthquake insurance can actually double one's homeowners insurance premiums, but the alternative could be the inability to repair or replace one's home after an event. One could end up continuing to pay a mortgage on a non-existent home. Furthermore, we've learned, particularly since the Reno quake swarm began, that State Farm, as well as other carriers, will not issue any new earthquake insurance policies to an affected area for 30 days after a 4.0 or greater earthquake.
And, in extreme circumstances, a carrier might just decide to stop issuing earthquake insurance permanently. In April 2006, the Alaska Pride blog reported that Allstate not only decided to permanently stop all earthquake insurance, but also decided to stop issuing any homeowners insurance in some areas of the country they deemed too liable. If at all financially possible, the time to get earthquake insurance is NOW.
And finally, considering that Utah Valley is dominated by an LDS population, and the LDS Church emphasizes preparedness, one would be wise to follow their advice. Educate yourself and assemble the necessary emergency supplies. Will you and your family have food to eat and water to drink? Will you have shelter and proper clothing? What about cash? Now's the time to answer those questions, as well. And it's not a matter of religion. It's science.