Largest Utah earthquake in 18 years rattles homes, causing only minor damage

Published: Friday, April 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

RANDOLPH, Rich County — Shannon Butler was cooking at a restaurant in Randolph Thursday when the earth started shaking and knocked her into a nearby counter.

"It shook us pretty good," said Stacey Showalter, who also works at the Gator Drive-In and Game Room. "Some things came off the shelves, the cupboards popped open and pictures came off the wall."

A 4.9 magnitude earthquake was reported at 5:59 p.m. five miles northeast of Randolph, near the Utah-Wyoming border, Thursday — the largest earthquake in Utah in 18 years.

Only minor damage was reported from the quake that occurred in a relatively shallow depth of just over a quarter mile along the Crawford Fault, according to readings at the seismic network operated by the University of Utah.

U. seismologist Relu Burlacu said the earthquake is small, especially compared with recent quakes that have cost hundreds of lives, including a 6.9 magnitude quake in China on April 13.

The 4.9 quake is the largest to hit Utah since St. George experienced a 5.9 earthquake in 1992.

"The amplitude of the event in 1992 was 10 times bigger, and in energy that event was 30 times larger," Burlacu said.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports a 4.9 quake is generally strong but likely to cause only light damage. That's how Randolph residents described it. It shook buildings and caused pictures and other items to rattle and crash to the floor.

One Randolph resident said the shaking lasted about 40 seconds.

Laura Smith, who lives right across from the police station, said she was sitting on the floor when the quake struck, knocking her Coca Cola collection off the shelves.

"I got hit with a hard jolt, another jolt and a rolling. I realized it was an earthquake," Smith said. "And I thought I left California because of the earthquakes."

Randolph teenager Dixie Jones described the shaking ground as similar to standing on a trampoline. The quake shattered a large mirror in her bathroom but caused no other damage at her home.

Rich County sheriff's dispatchers said many people called in about the quake but no serious damage was reported.

Colburn Williams was watching TV about 35 miles away from the epicenter in Logan when he felt the rattling. He said 15 minutes later, the liquid sauce in a dish his wife had prepared for dinner was moving back and forth for at least three minutes in what he believes was an aftershock.

This wasn't his first quake. Williams, who's lived in Logan for 54 years, said he remembers one early morning in 1962 when the earth shook. That quake, which was reported as a 5.7 magnitude, knocked grocery products onto the ground at a nearby store.

"I had an office at Utah State University at the time and the quad was just rolling like waves of an ocean," Williams recalled. "We didn't want to see another one."

Salt Lake City residents also reported feeling the quake 78 miles away, including at the U. Suzanne Ashe said her Chihuahuas at her Poplar Grove home went insane when the quake hit.

"I didn't realize it was an earthquake until I noticed the liquid in my glass of water was rolling," she said. "I'm from California. I know what earthquakes are."

Seismic activity, most of which is not felt at the surface, is routine throughout the Intermountain West.

Burlacu hopes Thursday's earthquake reminds Utahns that earthquakes occur here and residents should take precautions, such as securing heavy furniture and other objects and creating disaster-preparedness plans and supply kits.

Seismologists have predicted that a major earthquake is due to occur in the Salt Lake segment of the Wasatch Fault anytime. The area was subject to 7.0 to 7.5 magnitude quakes thousands of years ago and Burlacu said on average they hit every 1,300 years.

"We obviously don't know when the next one will happen," he said. "But it's been about 1,300 years since the last one."

Residents in Evanston, Wyo., and parts of Idaho also reported feeling the temblor.

Within a radius of 16 miles around the Randolph epicenter, Burlacu said at least four quakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher have hit there since 1962.

A minor earthquake of magnitude 3.9 occurred about 1 p.m. Wednesday in Capitol Reef National Park. The epicenter of that quake was located 26 miles southeast of Torrey, in Wayne County, and 31 miles northeast of Escalante, according to an update from the U.

Contributing: James Thalman

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com

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