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More aftershocks expected after 5.7 quake hits northern Utah

Posted at 6:37 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 22:42:29-04

SALT LAKE CITY — David Smith was starting to do some work in the basement of BTG Wine Bar when the earthquake hit.

"It felt like 10 semi trucks just hit the building," he said. "It was kind of a terrifying moment."

Smith evacuated the historic building on West Temple in downtown Salt Lake City as bricks started falling from the facade.

The 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit northern Utah hard on Wednesday morning. The first shock was at 7:09 a.m., epicentered near Magna. It was felt as far away as southern Idaho, Wyoming and south into Millard County.

"The good news is there are no injuries that have been reported. No fatalities," Governor Gary Herbert said in a news conference Monday morning.

The Utah State Capitol, already responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, elevated its readiness level to the highest level -- a Level 1 emergency -- in response to the earthquake.

"This is extremely bad timing. Because we already have the coronavirus issue going on right now which is causing a lot of anxiety right now as it is," Gov. Herbert said. "Mother Nature has no reference point for challenges we face today. I’d like to say the good news for us is we’ve been preparing for this a long time."

Gov. Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson appeared at a Wednesday news conference to assure the public that they were ready and responding to the emergency. The state of Utah has already issued an emergency declaration because of COVID-19 and that would cover the earthquake, Gov. Herbert said.

Mayor Mendenhall urged people to remain in their homes as authorities assessed damage from the earthquake and continue to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"Social distancing is still critically important. But social grace goes a long way in times like this," she said. "People are worried. People are afraid and rightfully so. But please be kind, be generous, be forgiving. We all want the best and we will get through this."

Infrastructure remained largely intact. Rocky Mountain Power had thousands without electricity immediately after the earthquake. It was being restored by late Wednesday. Utah Transit Authority had service restored quickly. Utah's Department of Transportation reported minor damage to overpasses.

"After a very challenging morning, the major incidents that we were watching are currently under control," Mayor Wilson told reporters.

The biggest impacts from the earthquake were at the Salt Lake City International Airport, which closed, and Kennecott Copper, which had an 8,200 gallon hydrochloric acid spill. Both were resolved by mid-afternoon.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Salt Lake Temple sustained minor damage. The horn fell off the Angel Moroni statue.

In Magna, old brick buildings were significantly damaged. About 100 people were displaced, said Magna Township Mayor Pro-Tem Trish Hull. They were sheltering at Taylorsville High.

Aftershocks continued throughout the day. The largest was a 4.6 magnitude that was felt in downtown Salt Lake City. Keith Kopid, the director of the University of Utah Seismograph Station, said to expect it to continue.

"The aftershocks, that’s sort of what to expect. There should be hundreds, if not thousands of magnitude 2s and 3s, but for the most part they won’t do any damage," he said.

State officials urged people to do what they can to prepare for the next major earthquake in Utah. Gov. Herbert urged people to have a 72-hour kit and ensure their water heaters were strapped to walls. Utah has long prepared for earthquakes, conducting annual drills under the "Great Utah Shake-Out" and its "Be Ready Utah" campaign.

One state emergency management official FOX 13 spoke with referred to the 5.7 Magna event as a "designer earthquake:" It wakes you up, makes you pay attention but is not catastrophic. It was a reminder to prepare for the next one.