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ARE WE SAFE? QUAKE MAPS GOING FAST

SHARE ARE WE SAFE? QUAKE MAPS GOING FAST

Most residents along the Wasatch Front wonder how much the land beneath their homes will shake, slide or turn to mud when the long-predicted earthquake - the Big One - hits this area.

For the past week, homeowners with a morbid curiosity have rushed to the Utah Department of Natural Resources to snatch up new maps that show where geological hazards lie in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties."This isn't good. This isn't good at all," Corrine Walthers muttered, placing the map against the hood of her car and tracing a finger toward her Murray home. An "H" hovers close to where she believes her home sits.

It's an H for a high potential that the sandy, water-saturated soil will turn to slush in an earthquake. Under these conditions, buildings can sink or tilt, the ground can crack and empty tanks buried underground may float to the surface.

The free maps show earthquake faults, landslides and areas likely to mix with the high water table and liquify in a quake.

A week after they were printed, employees at the Utah Geological Survey bookstore reported Thursday they're almost out of Salt Lake County's version of the map. A few more of the Davis and Weber county maps remain of 1,000 printed for each county.

Utah officials say it's only a matter of time until a big earthquake - a quake up to 7.5 on the Richter Scale - rattles the Wasatch Front.

Geologists say the Beehive State won't get an 8- or 9-scale quake like California and Alaska have seen during the years. But a local shake will cause more damage than the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake that nearly destroyed San Francisco's Marina District.

Many of Utah's older, brick homes, unreinforced by rebar steel or other support construction, will collapse, geologists say. Homes built on old landslides and on the shifty surface of the ancient bed of Lake Bonneville also will be in trouble, said Kimm Harty, deputy director of the Utah Geological Survey.Last week, just after maps were given out, a handful of people who'd just picked up maps at Department of Natural Resources on North Temple, braved the sweltering conditions in their car interiors to figure out their home-to-hazard ratio.

The force behind the rush for maps seems to stem from the same kind of cautious curiosity that forces passersby to search for the injured at traffic accidents.

"It's like I don't want to know, but I want to know," Anita Shaltheiss tried to articulate.

And knowledge is just what officials hope the public can gain from the map. The information has been available, but most people don't know about it, Harty said. Local planners generally know, but don't tell about geological hazards. The information doesn't come up in discussions with real estate agents in the homebuying process.

Utah's growth and construction explosion have pushed hazard concerns to the back burner, she said.

"That's why this is out," Harty said. "People have got to check because the government is not going to check for you."

Harty can't tell people the safest place to live along the Wasatch Front, although many ask. She offers her best advice for people who will use the map to decide where to rent or buy property.

"Avoid the fault first. Avoid the high liquidation areas, although that's tough because they cover 30 to 40 percent of the valley," she said. "And definitely don't build on a landslide."

Comprehensive Emergency Management printed the maps with federal money for earthquake preparedness, said John Rokich, natural hazards section chief.