A moderate earthquake Wednesday near Salt Lake City temporarily shut down a major air traffic hub, damaged a spire atop a temple and frightened millions of people already on edge from the coronavirus pandemic. There were no reports of injuries.
The 5.7-magnitude quake just after 7 a.m. damaged the spire and statue atop the iconic Salt Lake Temple. Elsewhere, bricks were showered onto sidewalks and a chemical plume was released outside the city.
The epicenter was just southwest of Salt Lake City, between the airport and Great Salt Lake. It was felt by about 2.8 million people who were already hunkered down inside their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many ran outside in panic amid the shaking that lasted as long as 15 seconds. “This is extremely bad timing, because we already have the coronavirus issue going on right now causing a lot of anxiety,” Gov. Gary Herbert said. Planes were diverted from Salt Lake City International Airport and the control tower and concourses were evacuated. Far fewer people than normal were in the airport, due to the coronavirus precautions. On a typical travel day, the airport would have had about 24,000 people inside and more making connections. But there were just 9,000 on Wednesday, making an evacuation easier. airport executive director Bill Wyatt said.
Marsha Guertzgen of Evanston, Wyoming, was about to board a flight when the quake struck. “Pandemonium and chaos” immediately erupted in the terminal — only to be heightened by each aftershock, she said.
“Everybody was running around, they were scared, I don’t think they knew what was going on,” she said. “People were screaming, kids were screaming, people were climbing under things.”
No runway damage was found and most of the damage in the terminal appeared to be caused by a broken water line, Wyatt said. Cargo and non-commercial flights resumed hours later, but commercial flights were delayed into the afternoon.
Elsewhere, there were reports of fallen lights and bookcases.
People reported feeling the quake in the neighboring states of Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada.
The quake shut down light-rail service for Salt Lake City and its suburbs. The chemical plume was released at Kennecott copper mine west of Salt Lake City and moved toward the Great Salt Lake, said Clint Mecham, Salt Lake County’s emergency manager. Officials have not identified the chemicals involved, but Mecham said it was not expected to affect people since it’s moving away from populated areas.