CNN, by Jason Hanna and Konstantin Toropin: A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Salt Lake City area Wednesday morning [March 17th], cutting power to tens of thousands and suspending work at Utah’s public health lab amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Flights to Salt Lake International Airport were diverted, departures were postponed, and terminals and concourses were evacuated so engineers could inspect the facilities, the airport said.
The quake was centered about 10 miles west of Salt Lake City, near the city of Magna, starting at 7:09 a.m. (9:09 a.m. ET), the US Geological Survey said.
People in downtown Salt Lake City left buildings and gathered outside after the quake, talking about the shaking, CNN affiliate KSL reported.
“It didn’t feel like a small earthquake at all. I heard things in my kitchen falling,” Michael McCarlie, who lives in an apartment at the City Creek Landing development in the capital, told KSL.
This is the state’s most powerful quake since 1992, when a magnitude 5.9 temblor struck the St. George area, Utah’s Division of Emergency Management said.
Operations at the state’s public health laboratory were halted as the building was assessed for damage, the state Department of Health said.
The state’s coronavirus hotline, which residents may call to request tests and seek information, was down after the quake, Gov. Gary Herbert said on Twitter—though the health department said a temporary information line was available.
The Department of Health said its lab is being assessed for damage, and testing will resume when the building is “determined to be safe.”
“There were no samples being tested at the time of the earthquake,” the department said in a media advisory posted on Twitter. “Additionally, no samples or laboratory equipment were damaged during the earthquake.”
Commercial labs in the state are working and still processing Covid-19 tests, the department said.
By the early afternoon there were about 10,000 customers without power, down from 73,000 immediately after the quake, Rocky Mountain Power reported.
“Please stay away from the downtown area while crews assess damage,” Herbert said. “Unless you work in public safety, or are an essential employee, remain at home or telework.”
The quake comes as Utah residents, like people across the world, are adjusting to changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic, including canceling schools and limiting mass gatherings.
“I know the last thing we need right now is an earthquake, but here we are, and it sounds like aftershocks are likely,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said on Twitter.
At the city’s iconic Mormon temple, the quake dislodged the trumpet of the angel statue atop its highest spire, a video from KSL showed.
“The trumpet on the Angel Moroni statue fell off, and there is minor displacement of some of the temple’s smaller spire stones,” said Daniel Woodruff, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Aerial photos show the fallen trumpet appeared to have landed on the roof of the temple near the base of its spires.
School districts in the area have been offering grab-and-go lunch pickup programs during the coronavirus break, but some districts canceled those programs Wednesday because of the earthquake, CNN affiliate KTVX reported.
Several aftershocks were recorded within 20 minutes of the main quake, according to the USGS, and dozens were recorded later, including one with a 4.6 magnitude Wednesday afternoon.
Generally in Utah, earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 happen once every 10 years, and quakes greater than magnitude 6 happen once every 50 years, the USGS says.
That statement takes into account instrumentation records dating back to 1962 and historical records dating back to the 1850s, the USGS says.
“I ask you, Is the kingdom of God within you? God’s people are to be minutemen, always ready, always composed in Jesus Christ. The time is now come when one moment we may be on solid earth, the next the earth may be heaving beneath our feet. Earthquakes will take place when least expected.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 421.