Magnitude 6.0 Earthquake Strikes Northeastern Nevada

February 21, 2008

A strong earthquake struck near the northeastern Nevada town of Wells, causing major structural damage to some older masonry buildings, igniting small fires and bursting windows in homes and businesses.

According to reports, the shock was felt in 225 different ZIP Codes and as far away as Twin Falls, Idaho, nearly 100 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. More than 160 people there filed reports with the USGS, which issued an estimated magnitude of 6.0 for the event. Depth was estimated at 6.2 miles.

“Nevada has a complex plate-tectonic environment,” said Mehrdad Mahdyiar, director of earthquake hazard at AIR Worldwide. “The state is characterized by mountains that exhibit varying amounts of extension, or rifting. In fact, the numerous north-south mountain ranges from Reno to Salt Lake City are the consequence of this extension, which may have caused areas of the state to expand by a factor of two over the past 20 million years. Extension seems to be most active at the eastern and western margins, i.e. the mountains near Salt Lake City and Reno. The Great Basin area to the west imparts a significant amount of shearing action on the rifting. As a result, Nevada hosts hundreds of active fault zones and experiences earthquakes over a broad area.”

The tremor occurred in a sparsely population region of northeast Nevada and about 11 miles southeast of Wells (population – 1,500), near the Nevada-Utah line. One hundred fifty miles to the east, in the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Tribune’s seven-story office building shook east to west and its light fixtures swung by about a foot.

In Wells, the roof of the Fourway Bar CafĂ© and Casino collapsed, and the earthquake caused a propane leak that prompted the evacuation of a truck stop. Most residents are reporting some type of property damage — including cracked walls and foundations, items thrown from walls and tipped furniture. It caused significant damage to some of the town’s older historic commercial buildings, one collapsing completely. As many as 20 aftershocks have occurred.

Because this event occurred in such a sparsely populated region, insured losses are not expected to be significant.


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