Odds of the ‘Big One’ hitting Utah


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah)-New warnings for Utahns to prepare for a major earthquake. We’ve all heard the dire predictions of not “if, but when.” Scientists are now saying the odds of it happening are about the same odds you face in a casino playing black jack. With those odds are you willing to gamble that a quake won’t happen?

ABC4 reporter Randall Carlisle traveled to Wells, Nevada because that is the closest city to Utah that suffered a recent major, damaging earthquake. Residents there remember what it was like.

“I just heard this rattling,” says Doug Gadd. “I thought a train was crashing into my house.”

Matt Holford says it went “Kaboom! When it did, I ran out the back door in time to see all the old buildings downtown fall down.”

“I thought a train had derailed,” remembers City Manager Jolene Supp. “Or maybe an airliner had wrecked. My husband was the one who said that was an earthquake.”

Current Mayor Layla Walz says “the floor just kind of dropped out from underneath us. It was almost as if we’d been standing on a rug and someone started shaking it. It was a big rolling effect and I was flopping.”

City Manager Supp estimates about $10 million in damages. Many downtown buildings crumbled. They’ve been torn down and there are still piles of rubble serving as a grim reminder of what happened.

The citizens of the small town have banded together financially and emotionally with a goal of re-building for the future.

“We want to remember the earthquake,” says Supp “but also move forward and make our downtown a place for our next generation to enjoy for years.”

Check out the video of damage from the Wells quake and then consider this. If a major quake hits along the Wasatch fault in Utah, scientists say it could be 30 times more powerful.

Noted seismologist Ivan Wong, along with 14 scientists, spent 6 years studying the Wasatch fault to make this prediction about a major quake. “It could occur later today. It could occur tomorrow. It could occur days, months or years down the road. But we know in the next 50 years it’s 1 out of 2.”

Almost 50-50, close to the blackjack odds in a casino.

The Wasatch fault runs 240 miles from southern Idaho to central Utah. The most active part of the fault line is between Brigham City and Nephi, the most populated area. Scientists are predicting a quake of 6.75 magnitude or greater.

In that scenario they say there would be 2,500 fatalities, 9,300 life threatening injuries, 84,000 families displaced from their homes and total short term economic losses of $33 billion.

Joe Dougherty from the Utah Division of Emergency Management describes what life would be like for us after the quake. “It is going to disrupt everything we rely on, on a daily basis.”

“Utilities will go down,” he says. “Sewer systems will be down. Telecommunications will be down. Water could be out for weeks and electricity could be out for days to weeks.”

FEMA has a massive emergency plan in place when the “big one” hits here. They’ve got literally thousands of people ready to come here and help us, but that could take a week or more. Not because they aren’t ready to leave on a moment’s notice, but because they couldn’t get here.  Roads could be impassable and airports out of service. Hospitals may or may not be operating, but you might have trouble getting to them.

And don’t expect to see your local police officer or firefighter to be there. Sean Mcgowan, Earthquake Program Manager at FEMA explains “we anticipate a lot of first responders locally would themselves be impacted. So, in addition to being firefighters and police officers, they’re also husbands and fathers and wives and daughters. They would have their own families to take care of.”

The unreinforced masonry buildings and homes (URMs) were the first to fall in Wells and they pose the biggest threat for death when the quake hits Utah. More on that Tuesday in part two of our special report “Earthquake, Surviving The Big One.”   

Are you prepared? Here’s a list of multiple resources including information from Be Ready Utah and FEMA.

Be Ready Utah

Be Ready Utah earthquake page

Ready.gov (FEMA’s preparedness program)

Utah Seismic Safety Commission

Utah Geological Survey (Info for home buyers)

Salt Lake City Fix the Bricks

Great Utah ShakeOut Earthquake Drill (Third Thursday in April)

For the latest on earthquakes near you, the following websites are available:

University of Utah Seismograph Stations

Utah Geological Survey (Earthquakes page)

Utah Geological Survey (Earthquake faults)

FEMA Earthquake info

U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards

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