6.0 earthquake jolts rural northeastern Nevada town
WELLS (AP) – A strong earthquake rocked this rural northeastern Nevada town early Thursday, damaging hundreds of homes, rupturing gas and water lines and felling brick building facades in the historical district.
No serious injuries were reported after the magnitude-6.0 quake jolted the high desert town awake at 6:16 a.m. and rumbled across much of the West.
County commissioners declared a state of emergency in Wells, where some 20 to 25 buildings in the old, largely vacant historical district were “heavily damaged,” Elko County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin McKinney told The Associated Press.
“It was like a bomb went off,” said Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini, who was standing in the middle of the 4-way Cafe & Casino when the quake began.
“The walls and ceilings started coming down. Almost all of the businesses are shut down. We have no services and no fuel,” he said at an emergency meeting of the county commissioners.
Tom Turk, a state spokesman at the scene, said almost every one of the 700 residential structures in town had some damage.
“It just immediately jumped into rattling the walls,” said Donna Anderson, who was at the Wagon Wheel residential motel her father built 50 years ago when the quake hit. She said it seemed like the shaking went on for “five or six hours.”
Gov. Jim Gibbons said after touring the area Thursday afternoon that several buildings in the historical district had been reduced to “bricks and mortar and foundations.”
“But people are safe. We have three minor injuries, no deaths,” Gibbons said.
The temblor, centered in a sparsely populated area six to 12 miles east of Wells, was felt from northern Idaho and Utah to Southern California, officials said.
As many as 30 aftershocks were reported.
The town of about 1,600 was closed to all but residents, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.
Dan Burns, spokesman with the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, said workers were inspecting roads, bridges and dams for structural damage.
Crews were getting the upper hand on a ruptured supply pipeline that at one point was leaking up to 20,000 gallons of water a minute.
Newmont Mining Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard O’Brien said an inspection of the underground gold mines in the area “found no deficiencies.”
Located along the California Trail traveled by Western pioneers, Wells was founded by Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s.
Thursday’s quake temporarily disrupted the railroad now owned by Union Pacific.
“After it happened, we had to make sure that our track was OK,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond said. “It was a minor blip in our operation,” she said.
Because it is a crossroads for travelers on Interstate 80 and Highway 93 about 60 miles west of the Utah state line, officials were posting signs along the highways for motorists to fill up on gasoline elsewhere.
“In Northern Nevada, gas stops are few and far between,” Trooper Jim Stewart said. “We don’t want motorists stranded in the middle of nowhere.”
In the historic district of Wells, brick facades tumbled off several buildings, signs fell and windows broke, and some vehicles parked on the street were damaged by falling debris.
A support beam crushed an unoccupied car. Brick and mortar piled up along the street. Numerous chimneys were toppled.
“They have some businesses in there, mainly some retail stores, some old hotels, things like that, but only about half of them are occupied,” McKinney said. “Most or them are kind of in the process of being refurbished, being revitalized.”
Three injuries were reported, but they were “not very serious – a broken arm, some head lacerations, some difficulty breathing,” he said.
The Flying J Truck Stop was evacuated because of a propane leak, Elko County Undersheriff Rocky Gonzalez said, but no fires broke out. The leak was contained by midmorning.
A manager at the Flying J said the store was a wreck, with groceries and goods scattered.
Gonzalez said deputies were going door to door to check on residents, and the Red Cross had set up a temporary evacuation center at the fire station.
By nightfall, about 40 families had registered at the center but there was no indication how many would need a place to stay overnight, said Caroline Punches of the Northern Nevada Chapter of the American Red Cross.
A man who answered the phone at Wells Elementary School said there were cracks in walls and items were displaced.
“It was pretty bad,” said Jane Kelso from the Motel 6. “Everything in our whole building shook.
“We have cracks in our walls.”
In Wendover, Utah, just over the Nevada state line, Tammy Wadsworth was ironing clothes when the quake hit.
“I kept thinking, ‘When is it going to quit?’ A couple pictures fell off the walls,” she said. “One of my grandkids ran outside. They didn’t know what else to do. It scared them.”
Wadsworth is a secretary at Wendover High School, where classes began as usual.
“They did a quick walk around,” she said of school officials. “The school is OK. Teachers were instructed to talk about the earthquake and tell students what to do if it happens again – or if it’s worse.”
Wells High School suffered damage and was to remain closed Friday.
Tony Lowry, an assistant professor of geophysics at Utah State University, said the size of the quake and its location was unusual.
“It’s not common at all,” Lowry said. “In that part of Nevada, I don’t think we’ve seen any like that in the last 150 years or so.
“It’s not one of the places we would’ve looked or expected.”
According the USGS, the quake occurred along the Independence Valley fault system that runs east of Wells and near the Pequop Mountains.
The most recent surface rupture on the fault zone “likely occurred several tens of thousands of years ago,” the agency in a statement.
The USGS put the quake’s epicenter about 12 miles east-southeast of Wells. But based on sensors closer to the scene, officials at the Nevada Seismology Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno said it was six miles northeast of Wells.
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