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Consider a catastrophic earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley: thousands dead and injured, communications and utilities severed and the Great Salt Lake surging within a mile of a shattered city center.

What now? That's the premise of Response '90, a simulation of the aftermath of a 7.5 magnitude quake and the roles to be assumed by state and federal emergency managers."You have to imagine that all hell has broken loose," says Jim Tingey, earthquake program manager for the state Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management.

The three-day exercise that begins Tuesday sets the scene at 12:15 p.m. on July 11, 1990, four hours after the Wasatch Fault has given way around a downtown epicenter.

Thirty seconds of shaking leaves ruptures from the State Capitol to the Salt Lake-Utah County borders, landslides in the canyons to the east and soil liquefaction in the western valley, forming instant quicksand that tilts and sinks heavy structures.

Fires rage in the refineries of north Salt Lake County and in homes and businesses in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo.

Four thousand are dead, hospitals are severely damaged, the Salt Lake International Airport is unusable and tens of thousands are displaced by the briny flood waters.

State resources are overwhelmed, if not knocked out entirely. The governor asks for a presidential disaster designation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency kicks in its Plan for Federal Response to a Catastrophic Earthquake.

With 65 representatives of state agencies and 135 from federal divisions ranging from the Department of Agriculture to the Army Corps of Engineers, the exercise will be a first for Utah, Tingey said.

"Typically, earthquake exercises have involved county and state," he said. "They've never involved federal people, because their responsibility in the past has been recovery.

"FEMA acts after a disaster declaration. FEMA's been criticized in the past because it's kind of slow," Tingey said. "This plan gives FEMA and others the ability to move in quickly."

In fact, the existing federal earthquake plan is being expanded to include other kinds of natural disasters in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the Carolinas last September, said Bruce Baughman, FEMA's acting chief of hazard mitigation.

Response '90 also will give Tingey the opportunity to dovetail the state's response plan with the federal blueprint. Historically, large quakes have occurred on the Wasatch Fault about every 400 years, approximately the length of time since the last one, north of Nephi.

Seismologists estimate there is a one-in-five chance of a large quake on the Wasatch Front during the next 50 years.