5.7 magnitude earthquake in Utah knocks out power to thousands and diverts flights

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5.7 magnitude earthquake in Utah knocks out power to thousands and diverts flights
Police officers walk pass rubble after an earthquake Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Salt Lake City. A 5.7-magnitude earthquake has shaken Salt Lake City area and it knocked out power to some homes and brought the city's light rail system to a halt. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was just southwest of the city and was likely felt by an estimated 2.8 million people. Residents felt their homes shake for 10 to 15 seconds. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Police officers walk pass rubble after an earthquake Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Salt Lake City. A 5.7-magnitude earthquake has shaken Salt Lake City area and it knocked out power to some homes and brought the city’s light rail system to a halt. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was just southwest of the city and was likely felt by an estimated 2.8 million people. Residents felt their homes shake for 10 to 15 seconds. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(CNN) – A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Utah’s Salt Lake City area Wednesday morning, cutting power to tens of thousands and suspending work at the state’s public health lab amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

Flights to Salt Lake International Airport were being 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 and near the city of Magna, starting at 7:09 a.m. MT, 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 is 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.

More than 47,000 customers in the area were without power about an hour after the quake, Rocky Mountain Power’s website 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 an angel statue atop its highest spire, 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 land 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.

Airport reopening could take ‘more like hours instead of days’

It could take “more like hours instead of days” to reopen the airport, city airport director Bill Wyatt told reporters late Wednesday morning.

Concourse D had a substantial water line break that will need fixing, and structural engineers will evaluate the buildings before the airport can reopen, Wyatt said.

Because fewer people are flying during the coronavirus pandemic, “evacuating the terminal buildings was easier” than it would have been, Wyatt said.

The runways and taxiways were not damaged, Wyatt said. Some inbound planes were diverted to Denver or elsewhere, Wyatt said.

The airport said a road to the airport initially was closed after the quake, but eventually was reopened late Wednesday morning so passengers could be picked up.

The Utah Department of Transportation said it didn’t appear that the roads it’s responsible for were damaged, but workers were checking to make sure. Parts of Interstate 80 were temporarily closed so inspection crews could look at bridges, it said.

Several aftershocks had been recorded within 20 minutes of the main quake, according to the USGS.

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.

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