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Earthquake Rattles Utah Wednesday Morning

A heat map showing shaking intensity from the 5.7 magnitude earthquake. The red and yellow areas are most intense, while blue is less intense
Utah Division of Emergency Management

Utahns awoke to shaking and rumbling just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, when a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the state. The largest quake the state has seen since 1992 didn't much impact the Wasatch Back, but the scene on the Wasatch Front was different.

The epicenter is near Magna, about 20 minutes west of Salt Lake City, but the effects were felt as far north as Idaho and Wyoming and down south to Millard County. Wasatch Back residents in Summit and Wasatch Counties reported shaking from the initial quake as well as from subsequent aftershocks.

No injuries or fatalities were reported Wednesday morning. State and local officials said the biggest impact was the closure of the Salt Lake City International Airport. Additionally, thousands of Rocky Mountain Power customers were without power, the Utah Transit Authority rail system halted and some state government buildings, including some liquor stores, were shut down. Some buildings in Salt Lake City experienced structural damage, with bricks falling, and the trumpet fell out of the Angel Moroni statue on top of the Salt Lake City Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says the timing of the earthquake is bad, as the state deals with the COVID-19 outbreak, but Utah has been preparing for an earthquake for a long time. Herbert says the state implemented the Be Ready Utah program years ago to prepare the state for a big earthquake.

“At 7:09 this morning, those protocols went into place very smoothly,” Herbert said.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already placed stress on emergency response systems. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall encouraged the public to remain in their homes today, which also aids in the social distancing measure health officials have recommended to lessen the spread of COVID-19. However, Mendenhall says it’s important to remain compassionate and connect with neighbors.

“People are worried, people are afraid, and rightfully so," Mendenhall said. "We will get through this easier, and it will show our character even more as a community, when we do so with grace.”

Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah seismograph stations, says there’s only a small chance of having an earthquake larger than 5.7, and that probability decreases with time. Instead, he says to expect many small aftershocks.

“There should be hundreds, if not thousands, of magnitudes twos and threes, but for the most part, they won’t do any damage,” Koper said. “So, this is not the big earthquake. This is not the ‘Big One.’ This is a moderate-sized earthquake, and there’s no need to panic.”

As the state experiences aftershocks, the Utah Division of Emergency Management recommends dropping to the ground and taking cover under a table or something sturdy until the shaking stops.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.