San Francisco seemed much closer to Utah Tuesday than it was the day before.
Experts say there is a very real possibility that an earthquake similar in size to the California quake could rock the Wasatch Front in the near future.It's a message that has been repeated over and over. In fact, the inevitability of a quake here and the damage it could do was the subject of a Salt Lake School Board subcommittee meeting Tuesday night.
"We're due for one. We're not necessarily overdue, but we're due for one," said Genevieve Atwood, former state geologist and director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey.
"It will happen eventually in the Salt Lake area," added Sue Nava, staff seismologist at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.
Statistically speaking, there is a 1 in 5 chance the Wasatch Front will experience an earthquake measuring 7.5 or higher in the next 50 years, Nava said. But the chance of being hit by a more moderate quake is even higher. A tremor greater than 5 occurs on the Wasatch Front about every 10 years, said geologist Susan Olig.
The effects of an earthquake would vary greatly in different areas because of population, building codes, physical terrain and other factors, she said. Last December's quake in Soviet Armenia, for example, was the same magnitude as Tuesday's - 6.9 on the Richter scale.
Nearly 25,000 people lost their lives, compared to more than 200 in California's. Likewise, Utah cities would fare differently than those in California, Nava said.
"If you put the same quake underneath Salt Lake City, the damage effects would be 20 to 40 percent higher than they were in San Francisco." Many local buildings are not engineered to resist earthquakes as they are in California, she said.
Coincidentally, members of a seismic fact-finding committee were meeting Tuesday to make recommendations on how to reduce the risks facing students of the Salt Lake City School District should an earthquake occur.
According to preliminary assessments, thousands of Salt Lake students would likely die if a quake measuring 7.4 or greater hit the Wasatch Front during school hours.
A rough draft report indicated that 6,000 of the district's 24,850 students would be killed and more than 8,000 injured if a large quake centered in Salt Lake City hit during school hours. A quake in Bountiful or Utah County could kill more than 4,600 students and injure more than 6,200.
The district's three high schools - East, Highland and West - are considered to have the highest life risk of the district's schools, largely because of their ages and their three-story structure, the assessment indicated.
Attorney Jon Dibble, a member of the committee, said he has often driven by the high schools and believes they would not likely fare well in an earthquake.
Committee members hope to convince the Board of Education it needs to take action quickly to reduce quake risks in the schools, despite the 50 million price tag.
People interested in learning how to reduce earthquake risks are invited to attend a meeting in City Council Chambers at the Salt Lake City-County Building at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Former state geologist Genevieve Atwood will lead the discussion of earthquake hazards. The meeting is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Salt Lake.