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Reflecting on lessons learned, new information one-year after Utah earthquake

Caution tape surrounds a damaged building on Magna’s Main Street on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, following a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that was centered near the city on March 18. The street is now open to traffic. Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — One year ago today, buildings shook along the Wasatch Front as the result of a 5.7 magnitude earthquake. With over 2,500 aftershocks since that morning, Utah state leaders say it’s more important than ever to be prepared for a potential emergency.  

Utah awoke to an earthquake

It was just a little after 7:09 AM Wednesday morning, when the largest earthquake to hit Utah in almost 30 years rattled many people from their sleep.

The initial shake and many large aftershocks in the following hours were responsible for causing widespread power outages and damage.

Joe Dougherty, with Utah’s Division of Emergency Management, says for many people, it was the first significant earthquake they had ever experienced. Because of that, most people weren’t ready with the essentials they need.

“Like getting a little extra food and water, so they have that on-hand,” he explains. “Making sure that they keep sturdy shoes and a flashlight by their bed. An earthquake doesn’t care what time of day it is.”

He estimates the earthquakes caused around $70 million in public infrastructure damage. The good news is the state was well-prepared financially.

“The state of Utah has really good earthquake insurance, so most of the damages to state buildings, and even some local buildings, was covered by insurance,” says Dougherty. “Which is phenomenal.”

He adds that such an example should serve as a lesson to all homeowners. Something like earthquake insurance, while you may only use it once, is extremely valuable when you do eventually need it.

Learning more about the fault lines

Meanwhile, the people who study earthquakes in Utah, say the events one year ago taught them a lot.

“When we have an earthquake sequence like this, what happened in Magna, we can basically make a map of what the fault looks like underground,” explains Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah seismograph stations.

He says specifically, they learned that the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch Fault System is curved. That means the fault is actually closer to us on the surface than originally thought.

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