SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – “Stay home, don’t panic, and avoid rumors.” These were messages emphasized over and over by local and state leaders in a press conference just four hours after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Wasatch Front Wednesday morning.
“This is extremely bad timing because we already have the coronavirus issue going on right now, which is causing a lot of anxiety as it is. Mother Nature certainly has no reference point for additional challenges we face here today,” said Gov. Gary Herbert.
Jess Anderson, Commissioner for the Utah Department of Public Safety, said the earthquake was felt as far north as Southern Idaho and Rich County, as far east as Wyoming, Vernal and Uintah Basin, and as far south as Millard County.
Gov. Herbert said Wednesday’s earthquake was an example of why the Be Ready Utah campaign was created in April 2006 when he was Lieutenant Governor. The program is designed to prepare Utahns for all types of emergencies, including earthquakes, floods and fires.
“Make sure you have your 72-hour kits on-hand, which is part of our protocol here. Everybody should have one of those if they need to evacuate the area. The fact that we’ve taken steps means the people in Utah are, in fact, prepared,” said Gov. Herbert.
The earthquake, detected at 7:09 a.m., led to evacuation and the eventual closure of the Salt Lake International Airport, where officials reported damage to the traffic control tower and minor flooding in one of the concourses.
As of 11:30 a.m., state leaders reported 235 power outages affected approximately 50,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers. The outage did not impact any of the state’s emergency and public safety systems or communication lines such as 911.
Other impacts included some districts closing down schools completely, which were supposed to provide take-home coursework and sack lunches for students learning at home because of COVID-19 social distancing recommendations. Utah Transit Authority also suspended rail services for several hours.
After residents throughout the valley continued to feel shocks, with the second-highest measured at 4.6 around 1 p.m., Steve Bowman with Utah Geological Survey and Keith Coper with University of Utah Seismograph Stations urged Utahns not to listen to rumors about earthquakes and clarified that Wednesday’s earthquake was not the “Big One.”
“There’s essentially zero probability of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. We can’t get an earthquake greater than a 7.6 or 7.7 magnitude. That’s just a rumor going around social media,” they said. “There is a small probability that the 5.7 earthquake that happened this morning is going to be a fore shock of a larger earthquake to happen, but it’s only a few percent over the next week and it’s getting lower over time.”
Anderson offered advice of how to stay safe in future earthquakes.
“Another [rumor] is that people are being told to shelter in place. That is not the case for this earthquake. We have been in touch with FEMA and they are not coming out with that,” said Anderson. “The other narrative is to stand in a doorway during an earthquake. It is actually best to get under a table, a solid surface or a desk, something that gives you a much more and greater strength in support.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said while Wednesday’s earthquake struck during a time when the city was already under a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it prepared residents for the earthquake.
“Our residents are better prepared to be at home than they probably have at any time in the last many decades. Our city is resilient. We will get through this,” said Mayor Mendenhall. “Social distancing is still critically important, but social grace goes a long way in times like this. People are worried. People are afraid and rightfully so. But please be kind, be general, be forgiving.”
Salt Lake City Police Department Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake City Fire Department Karl Lieb said their teams are prepared and trained to handle multiple emergencies, such as what we’re experiencing now. Fire Chief Lieb said that all of their fire stations are up and running with all firefighters reporting for duty.
Mayor Mendenhall urged residents to stay home if possible to allow first responders and city crews to assist those in need. As of 11 a.m., first responders reported receiving 150 calls for assistance.
“Let those who are out there doing the work they need to do and let the crews who are assessing our critical infrastructure do the work they need to do. Staying home is a really good choice for everyone, in my opinion,” said Mayor Mendenhall.
She added, “Our city crews are assessing damages right now and that work is on-going. Salt Lake City owns about 88 buildings. We’re assessing all of those structures, our public utilities, and our street system. Our crews are hard at work.”
Anderson said UDOT had crews all over the valley inspecting roadway damage, including a bridge that likely suffered cosmetic damage on 1200 West over Legacy Highway in Farmington.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said no injuries were reported as a direct result of the earthquake.
“I am most relieved that we don’t have the loss of life. I think that’s all we woke up this morning and that’s what came to my mind and I’m so pleased to be able to report that,” she said.
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