As soon as my house stopped shaking, my phone began to ring.
“Whoa! We just had an earthquake! Did you feel that?” staff photographer Laura Seitz exclaimed just after 7 a.m.
“Yup! We got rocked here, too,” I said. “Call you right back!”
Because of COVID-19, we had already shifted into working remotely, but due to the severity of the quake, I knew this day was going to be challenging.
I started making calls to our Deseret News photographers for an all-hands-on-deck response after a 5.7 magnitude struck Magna and was felt throughout the Wasatch Front on March 18.
Everyone knows that when it comes to big stories, we’re all in this together for as long as we need to be. So our night photographer Scott Winterton responded in his Herriman community that morning, knowing he would likely have a long day, while those on day shifts started extra early so we could quickly upload our photos on the web.
Depending on the location of the photographers’ residence is how and where we prioritized the locations that they we responded to first. But information that was accurate was hard to come by. We simply didn’t know which areas had been seriously damaged.
Our news-gathering partners from KSL-TV were knocked off the air that morning for a short amount of time due to the quake, so getting information into the newsroom and then broadcast out to the public, including those of us working remotely, was not fast at first.
We broke out the portable police scanners, watched social media, made phone call after phone call, and worked our sources to gather as much information as we could.
Within minutes of Spenser Heaps, deputy director of photography for the Deseret News, arriving on scene of a damaged downtown building, we had photos into our system.
“Of course this thing caught me totally off guard, literally shaking me from my sleep. But preparedness is something you make part of your routine as a photojournalist,” Heaps recalled of that morning.
“So thankfully, my batteries were charged and my camera bag was pretty much ready to go out the door. Once the shaking stopped, I threw on some clothes, threw the cameras and laptop in my truck and was ready to go out the door.”
By 7:29 a.m. we had a story up with the first photo. Within the hour we had a full photo report from Heaps from his downtown location along with photos from a damaged school in Herriman from Winterton.
After we learned about major damage in Magna at a mobile home community, photographer Jeff Allred was dispatched to that scene. Allred was able to quickly send photos into us for the breaking web story updates, giving our readers a complete and compelling look at the Magna victims’ homes that were badly damaged.
With a concern that cellphone towers might be jammed, we switched communication between our photographers to our two-way radio system — a system we invested in a few years earlier for just such scenarios. This also likely allowed our photographers to use their cellular data to send photos into our system.
By late morning as things calmed down, Heaps and I were able to make our way into the building to continue coordinating coverage and work on editing the amazing images that were still coming in. Despite the initial plan to work remotely, we felt like we needed to be there.
Just like many residents, the aftershocks rattled our nerves throughout the day. But all of us working on the story, including editors, reporters and photographers, knew our readers were counting on us.
Here are some of the incredible images captured that day and in the days and weeks that followed by the Deseret News photojournalists.