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Power restored, crews survey damage, geological effects of Utah earthquake

Cleanup continues after 5.7 earthquake

Adam Hiscock, Utah Geological Survey hazards geologist, looks at a crack as he assesses earthquake effects at the Great Salt Lake Marina on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Adam Hiscock, Utah Geological Survey hazards geologist, looks at a crack as he assesses earthquake effects at the Great Salt Lake Marina on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday morning the Wasatch Front returned to some normalcy even as cleanup continues amid the rumbling of aftershocks of the previous day’s magnitude 5.7 earthquake.

All electrical power to homes and businesses had been restored by 12:44 a.m. Thursday, according to Rocky Mountain Power.

Flights have resumed at Salt Lake City International Airport, but some airlines are still dealing with the aftermath from as many as 70 flights being diverted Wednesday.

“We are trying to get back to normal as soon as possible. I always recommend that customers contact the airlines if their flight is delayed or if there are any cancellations that may impact their travel,” said airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

She added the some of the airlines are still working to get people to their original destination.

Structurally, both the airport and the construction site passed inspection, Volmer said.

As for the airport’s air traffic control tower, the Federal Aviation Administration said a thorough structural assessment is still needed.

“Air traffic controllers are working with limited capability from an airport ramp tower. The FAA is transporting a mobile tower to SLC in case the primary tower cannot be used for an extended period. The mobile tower was scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening,” an FAA spokesman said in a statement.

“The Salt Lake City Terminal Radar Approach Control, which guides aircraft into and out of SLC and other nearby airports, is temporarily operating on a limited basis out of the Salt Lake Air Route Traffic Control Center, which handles higher-altitude traffic,” the spokesman said.

John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, said as of midday Thursday 13 teams of inspectors had checked out the structural integrity of 291 bridges, out of the 621 bridges identified as existing in the earthquake zone.

“One of our main priorities is checking out all of our bridges to make sure they are in good working order,” he said.

Of the bridges inspected so far, only one was “red-flagged” and taken out of service — the Fort Union flyover ramp to I-215.

“We need to get in there and see what exactly needs to be addressed and if it is just surface damage or if something more that we need to get in there and fix,” he said.

The team of inspectors are working as quickly as they can to get the rest of the bridges inspected and may be done by Friday night, but Gleason stressed the crews have to be thorough to ensure motorists’ safety.

“Never has it been so important that we do have such a strong transportation system,” he said. “The good news and news that people can take away in a day of uncertainty is they can take a lot of comfort in the fact that our roads and bridges are meant to withstand earthquakes like this.”

The 3rd and 2nd District courts, which shut down due to the earthquake, were reopened Thursday after all the buildings passed inspection, according to Geoffrey Fattah, spokesman for the Utah State Courts.

Canyons School District, too, reported all of its facilities passed inspection and are safe to occupy.

Dominion Energy’s supply pipelines also held up, according to spokesman Don Porter.

“Obviously nobody wanted this to happen, but for decades we have been building and upgrading the pipelines in our system with the goal that if anything like this ever happened, you would like to know it would survive,” he said.

“This was a pretty good shake,” he said, commending the work of engineers and other professionals involved over the years to ensure pipeline safety.

Dominion Energy typically gets 68 emergency calls a day, but after Wednesday’s earthquake, 1,768 came in, Porter said.

“All of our crews went out and by the middle of the afternoon they had taken care of all but 100 of those calls,” he said.

The most severely impacted area in terms of natural gas issues was the mobile home park on 7200 West in West Valley City, where the lines to the meters to individual residences were damaged, Porter said.

Ten crews are out working there Thursday and could possibly finish with the repairs by day’s end, he added.

“They will check them one by one,” Porter said.

The city condemned 49 of the mobile homes that were deemed uninhabitable, he added, and the goal is to get natural gas into the rest of the residences as quickly as possible, especially in light of the cool temperatures.

Porter added that Dominion Energy, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, is suspending shutoffs for nonpayment and working to get those that were shut off back on the system.

“It is not that people won’t have to pay their bills. They will have to pay for the gas that they use. We are trying to be a good neighbor. We know people are out of work. We want them to be able to cook and stay warm,” he said.

Local American Red Cross teams have been deployed to neighborhoods to assess the damage to homes and offer assistance where necessary. The Red Cross evacuation and information center at Taylorsville High School will remain open until 8 p.m.

If people are unable to come to the center they should call 1-800-REDCROSS.

USGS & Michelle Budge

Earlier Thursday, the state downgraded from a level one emergency activation to level two, which is a partial activation, according to Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

Dougherty said there is not a need to have as many state employees for earthquake updates.

Because everyone is in the assessment stage, there is not yet a dollar value on the damage the earthquake caused or how many homes and businesses were impacted.

Dougherty said the agency continues to be active by coordinating with other government entities and responding to concerns from residents.

“People are continuing to ask questions, and good questions, on social media on what these earthquakes mean,” he said.

Readying for preparedness is a good remedy for the anxiety some people might be feeling, he noted.

Dougherty urged residents to go to beready.utah.gov for information on how to be prepared in a natural disaster.

Utah’s liquor stores — which all closed due to the earthquake on Wednesday — reopened with modified hours due to the coronavirus.

Terry Wood, spokesman for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said there was some breakage from the earthquake, but it was minimal.

“Not all stores had bottles come off the shelf,” he said.

The agency’s warehouse had some bottles break and a sprinkler rupture which caused some flooding, Wood added.

Fears over the coronavirus stoked by the earthquake likely led to the long line at Utah’s busiest liquor store — the one in Cottonwood Heights.

Wood said he was there before noon to survey the situation and was amazed at the number of people coming out so early.

As inspections continue and rubble clearing goes on, employees of the Utah Geological Survey are carrying out an additional form of surveillance of earthquake impacts.

Two teams of geologists mobilized Wednesday to look for evidence of surface fault rupture, liquefaction, lateral spread and other geological effects.

“This is an ongoing sequence so earthquake effects from aftershocks may not have been reviewed yet,” said Nathan Schwebach, a spokesman with the parent agency, the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Field teams went to an area north of the Salt Lake airport, along the Jordan River east of the airport, the Baileys Lake area, along I-80 between the airport and Saltair, and to downtown Magna.

Schwebach said geologists observed minor lateral spread in some small areas near the Jordan River. The “spread” is where soils can become jelly-like. Lateral spread can occur in areas with shallow groundwater and soils conducive to liquefaction.

He added that monitoring is ongoing, but the spread is of minimal concern.

Teams will continue to monitor aftershocks and will conduct additional field work along the east bench of Salt Lake County looking for rockfall.

The geologists used drones to get aerial views of damage out by Saltair and the Great Salt Lake State Park Marina, which closed its entrance due to a pipeline that ruptured in that area.

The team of geologists will be in the field for some time doing on-the-ground inspections and documenting evidence of lateral spread.

Emily Kleber, a geologist with the survey, said there was some cracking and expanded cracks, but not as much as one might expect.

“There’s damage but it is not like the movies,” she said.