Huffpost Homepage

Nevada Earthquake Shakes Northeastern Part Of State

Posted: Updated:

WELLS, Nev. — Windows shattered and building facades and signs fell, but no one was seriously injured when a powerful earthquake shook this rural northeastern town on Thursday.

The quake, which had an estimated magnitude of 6.0, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., struck at 6:16 a.m., near Wells in a sparsely populated area near the Nevada-Utah line.

Elko County commissioners declared a state of emergency. "Almost all of the businesses are shut down. We have no services and no fuel," Commissioner Mike Nannini said.

Donna Anderson of Wells said she was surprised by how abruptly the quake hit.

"It just immediately jumped into rattling the walls," she told The Associated Press from the Wagon Wheel residential motel where she lives with her dog, Sis. She said it seemed like the shaking went on for "five or six hours" but probably lasted only a few minutes.

"I wasn't terribly scared but it felt like everything was just going to crumble down around us," she said.

Gov. Jim Gibbons toured the area and said most everyone was safe, citing just three minor injuries.

"I think we were just blessed that Mother Nature struck when it did ... rather than some time 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.

Almost all the 700 residential structures in town had some damage, said Tom Turk, a state spokesman at the scene.

The temblor was felt across much of the West, from northern Idaho and Utah to Southern California, and as many as 30 aftershocks were reported.

"Definitely a lot of people felt this, and if they were sleeping, they were awoken," said USGS geophysicist Carrieann Bedwell.

In Wendover, Utah, on the Nevada-Utah 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."

The most serious damage was reported in Wells' largely unoccupied historic district, where an estimated 20 to 25 buildings have been "heavily damaged," Elko County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin McKinney said.

Brick facades tumbled off several buildings, signs fell and windows broke, and some vehicles parked on the street were damaged by falling debris, KELK Radio in Elko reported.

The town of about 1,300 was closed to all but residents, the Nevada Highway Patrol said. Officials posted signs along nearby highways telling 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."

State officials said crews were inspecting roads, bridges and dams in the area for structural damage, and that two main water lines in the historic area had ruptured.

Newmont Mining Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard O'Brien said an inspection of the underground gold mines in the area "found no deficiencies."

In the high desert 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.

Tony Lowry, an assistant professor of geophysics at Utah State University, said the size of the quake and its location was unusual.

"In that part of Nevada, I don't think we've seen any like that in the last 150 years or so," Lowry said. "It's not one of the places we would've looked or expected."

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.