Nevadans hit by quake counting blessings; could have been worse
WELLS, Nev. (AP) _ An early morning earthquake damaged hundreds of homes, toppled chimneys and reduced part of a historical district to rubble but residents of this rural northeastern Nevada town are counting their blessings that it wasn’t worse.No one was killed and no serious injuries were reported after the magnitude 6.0 quake jolted the high desert town awake at 6:16 a.m. Wednesday and rumbled across much of the West.Some 20 to 25 buildings suffered heavy damage in the largely vacant historical district of Wells, where brick facades tumbled off several buildings, signs fell and windows broke. A support beam crushed one unoccupied car. Brick and mortar piled up and down the street.”There are a number of buildings that look completely destroyed,” Gov. Jim Gibbons said late Thursday after surveying the damage.”Bricks and mortar and foundations are just about all that is left of them right now,” he said. “But people are safe. We have three minor injuries, no deaths.””I think we were just blessed that Mother Nature struck when it did … rather than sometime later on when the people would be out and about and the sidewalks might have had more people on them when these structures came down,” he said.County commissioners declared a state of emergency in Wells and the town of about 1,600 was closed to all but residents, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.”It was like a bomb went off,” said Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini, who was standing in the middle of the 4-way Cafe andamp; Casino in Wells 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 virtually every one of the 700 residential structures in town sustained some form of 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.””I wasn’t terribly scared but it felt like everything was just going to crumble down around us,” Anderson told The Associated Press.The temblor, centered in a sparsely populated area 6 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.”It was scary, the scariest thing ever,” said Karen Swabb, who lives southeast of Wells in Clover Valley.”I never imagined it could be like that,” she told the Elko Daily Free Press. She said friends in Wells told her “one of their fish flew out of the bowl.”By nightfall, about 40 families had registered at a temporary shelter the American Red Cross helped set up at an elementary school.Three injuries were reported, but they were “not very serious a broken arm, some head lacerations, some difficulty breathing,” Elko County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin McKinney said.Wells High School suffered damage and was to remain closed Friday.Dan Burns, spokesman with the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, said workers were inspecting roads, bridges and dams for structural damage.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.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.In Wendover, Utah, 60 miles away, 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.”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 6 miles northeast of Wells.By Thursday afternoon, more store owners were taking the cleanup effort in stride.”It’s Mother Nature,” said Mitch Smith, the owner of the Wells Auto and Hardware store who was cleaning up spilled paint and other debris.”What good would it do to be upset? We’ve already decided to have a half-off sale on dented cans of paint.”
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