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Utah quake rattles nerves

Tremors took hold of shops, shelters and airport terminals

Quake reax
Dana Baum sits outside the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. When she first felt rumbling, Baum said she rushed to grab her cat, Sebastian, and hide under a bed bolted to the floor in the Gail Miller Resource Center.
Annie Knox, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sleep eluded Matt Caputo Tuesday night as he worried how soon the new coronavirus might force him to lay off workers at his Salt Lake delis.

Then, just as the sun rose Wednesday, a different sort of disaster struck.

When his home in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood began rattling, he knew exactly what was happening. He and his wife, Yelena Caputo, the vice president at Caputo’s Market & Deli, huddled in a door frame with their daughters, Gia, 10 and Frankie, 7.

“No one knows what the future holds,” Matt Caputo, the company’s CEO, said of his family and workers, “but everyone seems in good spirits.”

However optimistic, Utahns already on edge about the coronavirus were rattled by the early morning temblor along northern Utah’s urban corridor. The wisdom of late — that safety can be achieved simply by sanitizing and staying in — fell apart as many were jolted awake in their own beds.

Matt Caputo had been preparing to continue free deliveries Wednesday, a “lifeline” for the business after the state shut down dine-in service, he said.

Instead, his family stood outside their downtown Salt Lake City shop and sent home any employees who arrived for work, fearful of further quakes. By the end of the day, an aftershock shook about $2,000 more in merchandise from the store shelves.

Matt Caputo stands outside his family’s shop and restaurant on Wednesday, March 19, 2020, after an earthquake toppled $10,000 in gourmet bottled goods, smashing them on the floor.

Yet the building sustained only two broken windows. About 15 years ago, when the company bought the building, Caputo’s opted for seismic upgrades, paying extra for steel rebar in the walls that could keep bricks from crumbling.

“We’re feeling really good about that investment,” Caputo said. Outside another restaurant next door, Cucina Toscana, passersby stopped to gawk at a rooftop railing and large concrete blocks that had smashed on the sidewalk below.

Just a few miles away at the Gail Miller Resource Center, Dana Baum also woke to the rumbling Wednesday morning. She grabbed her cat, Sebastian, and ducked under her bed, which was bolted to the floor.

“It was just instinct to be safe,” Baum, 49, recalled. After the earthquake shut down light rail service, she walked about 10 blocks to the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake to sit down for a meal with her boyfriend, Phillip Higgins, 33.

She wore a surgical mask and cradled Sebastian as she sat on the sidewalk outside the mission. But it wouldn’t be serving lunch, she and Higgins found out.

The mission was busing residents and those in a treatment program to its Ogden operation or referring them to other Salt Lake shelters as it waited to hear whether the 120-year-old building was safe to return to, said Chris Croswhite, executive director of the mission.

By the time the quake hit — sending bricks tumbling into an attic area but causing no other visible damage — most of its overnight guests had left for the day, Croswhite said.

A facade atop a vacant building next door toppled, falling two stories and crushing chunks of sidewalk in the same spot where many had slept overnight in recent years before Salt Lake City clamped down urban camping.

“There would have been a dozen tents set up where that facade fell off,” Croswhite said. “We were very, very fortunate that none of our homeless friends were camping here and nobody was walking here, because this was completely covered in rubble.”

About 10 paces away from the area where crews swept up gravel, Baum and Higgins dialed another homeless service center nearby. As a last resort, they said they could tuck into two burritos, leftovers from Higgins’ early morning shift at his warehouse job.

“We’ve got to make do with what we don’t have,” Baum said. “We’ve got each other, and that’s enough.”

Adrienne Greenlaw and her, fiancé Mark Bierschied, are pictured on a recent trip to Antelope Island. The New Hampshire couple was about to fly home after their ski trip when an earthquake struck on Wednesday, March 19, 2020.
Family photo

Closer to Magna, where the quake hit, Adrienne Greenlaw and her fiancé, Mark Bierschied, were checking their ski gear at the curb before flying out of the Salt Lake City International Airport when the terminals began swaying.

The couple, of Gilford, New Hampshire, looked to the skycap for guidance, only to find her eyes wide. They approached security as TSA employees headed the other direction and decided to book a later flight after a handful of pilots told them the air traffic control tower needed repairs.

“We shouldn’t be up inside a big, long building with giant concrete things everywhere,” Greenlaw recalled thinking once inside the airport, where aftershocks rocked the building. “I got nervous, and I’m not usually like that.”

“It’s just so huge. There’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can complain about,” Bierschied added. “It’s nobody’s fault.”

As friends and Utah natives Mari Avilez, a spin class instructor, and Alema Tialino, a figure skating coach, picked up groceries at Harmons in Salt Lake City Wednesday, they recalled only feeling a small tremor or two in the past.

They are both out of work amid coronavirus shutdowns, but said the quake helped put things in perspective as loved ones checked in with them and they considered others less fortunate.

“I think that’s the biggest thing is to be grateful for what we do have, even though it feels a little panicky,” Tialino said. “We will survive and adjust to what comes.”