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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Damage in the historic district of downtown Wells, Nevada, from a 6.0 earthquake at 6:16 am PST today.

WELLS, Nev. — Everyone thought it was happening again.

Just before 5 p.m. Utah time, a 4.6 magnitude aftershock hit Wells, sending people running for doorways and ducking under tables.

The aftershocks continued all day today in the wake of a 6.0 earthquake that rocked the city at 7:16 a.m. and shook a large portion of the Mountain West. It was centered 11 miles east of Wells near the Utah-Nevada border, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The USGS initially measured the quake at a 6.3, but later downgraded it slightly to a 6.0.

There were confirmed reports of at least three people who were injured and at least 30 buildings with significant damage.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons toured the area and by late afternoon had declared it a "disaster" after meeting with residents still reeling from the devastation.

"Nevada cares about the people of Wells," he said.

State Division of Emergency Management spokesman Daniel Burns termed it a "challenging situation" and said there were reports of three water main breaks and gas line fires. The city, however, still had electricity and phone service.

The Wells Elementary School by 5 p.m. had become a nerve center for emergency assistance being carried out by multiple agencies.

Inside the school, Rick Sharp was overseeing a supply-line made up of 16 inmates from the minimum-security Wells Conservation Camp east of Wells.

The inmates, who are at the camp from six months to three years, represent the camp's cooking unit and were about to prepare a meal at the school that evening.

Just down the road, a structural engineer was surveying the high school and was finding several damaged areas. The gymnasium, which was supposed to be a shelter in an emergency, is being condemned.

Wells utility clerk Sherry Justus said that 200 calls had come into city hall by 4 p.m., most of them from people offering their services or supplies. The biggest concern among some of the callers centered around the water supply, but Justus said the water should be fine to drink.

Peg Kaplan was asleep at the El Rancho Hotel when the quake hit.

"It was loud, rumbling, sounded like a train coming through," said Kaplan, who owns the hotel. "It just seemed to go on forever."

Kaplan was allowed back into the building this afternoon, where she tried to coax three of her cats out from a hiding place. They refused to budge.

The building has been declared uninhabitable.

"I don't know if we'll ever recover," she said.

Around town, crews have spray-painted in the snow with fluorescent orange paint. A circle means the building is safe. An "X" means the building is uninhabitable, and a question mark indicates that officials don't know.

Pat Notestine was beginning her shift at Stuart's Foodtown when the earthquake hit. The ceiling buckled and items flew off the shelves, smashing onto the ground. Signs dropped from the ceiling and she panicked.

"It felt like the end of the world," she said.

The aftershocks that have hit the town have not done anything to ease fears, said Yvonne Stuart, the owner of the town's only grocery store. The aftershocks have been hitting all day, something experts say is not uncommon in the wake of a trembler of such magnitude.

Authorities said 45 to 50 families have been displaced from their homes and are seeking assistance from the American Red Cross said Elko County Undersheriff Rocky Gonzalez.

Wells Mayor Rusty Tybow said as many as 13 buildings had been severely impacted, if not totally destroyed. Inspection teams were being sent to all of the county's dams and bridges.

"I think everybody in town has been impacted," Tybow said.

The first priority for Nevada officials was going door-to-door in the city of 1,600 residents to make sure there were no serious injuries, Burns said.

"Our highest priority right now is knocking on every door in town," he said earlier in the day. "We want to make sure no one is trapped ... that the refrigerator hasn't fallen on someone and they can't move."

Utah State University professor and structural engineer Marv Halling brought two graduate students and a technician in his department down from Logan to view the quake's impact.

"We came down to see any structural damage to be viewed, something to learn," Halling said. "All of the damage I've seen is what you'd expect with this size of an earthquake."

As Halling and his group have walked around town they have seen what the benefits of reinforcing a building can have and the extensive damage that can occur on older, unreinforced buildings.

With one building in particular, Halling said, it was evident that the efforts the building's owner had taken to reinforce it had paid off, making the difference between potentially heavy damage and apparently only light damage.

In many places, nerves were rattled more than anything.

Humberto Cervantes, owner of Better Deal Pawn Shop in Wendover, Utah, was putting on his shoes and getting ready for work when he felt the quake at his apartment near the Wendover airport.

"The whole building was shaking," said Cervantes, who lived in Los Angeles for several years and has plenty of experience with temblors. "It was a little bit strong, even for here."

The shaking lasted about five or six seconds, knocking over a plant and a few knickknacks around Cervantes' home. Following a mild aftershock, he called relatives in Elko, Nev., who reported something odd just prior to the quake.

"The dogs were howling before it happened," one of Cervantes' children in Elko said over the phone.

Cervantes also called a friend who works at the 4 Way Truck Stop in Wells, where Cervantes worked for a while. The word from his old employer was that a ceiling had caved in. Cervantes said the truck stop and adjacent restaurant with "old-style home cooking" are a major employer in Wells.

At a casino just a stone's throw across the state line from the pawn shop, everyone among a bus-load of people outside a casino said they felt the quake. One man was playing the slots when his machine started to shake.

A woman with Peppermill Inc., which operates three casinos in the Wendover area, said there was no damage at any of the casinos. She was in a casino basement at the time of the quake.

"It shook everything down here," said Lisa, who, because of company policy, was not allowed to give her last name.

A little farther down the road at the Desert Discount Liquor Store, where there are a lot of bottles on the shelves, not one fell to the ground.

The temblor shook much of the Wasatch Front, although there were no early reports of damage in Utah.

Police dispatchers in Ogden, Davis County and Salt Lake City all said they felt the shaking. Dispatchers in Wendover, Utah, said they had received numerous calls from people who felt the shaking, but there were no early reports of damage.

Ogden police officer Tim Shelstead was running radar on 7th Street when his car began shaking.

"I thought it was a train going by with no train," he said.

It wasn't until after residents started calling emergency dispatchers and the information was relayed over police radio that he realized it was an earthquake.

The Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross sent several volunteers and its Emergency Response Vehicle to Wells.

Five volunteers were dispatched to Nevada from Utah with additional people put on standby, said Red Cross spokeswoman Ashlee Gunter.

The group's Disaster Services trailer is supplied with blankets, cots, food and drinks to provide support to residents and emergency responders.

A radio communications team also was sent to Nevada from the Red Cross.

The Red Cross encouraged residents of the Wells area who were affected by the earthquake to log on to the organization's "Safe and Well" Web address, www.redcross.org, and click on and register as safe and well.

"This allows friends and family from other areas to determine they are safe and well," said Red Cross officials in a press release.

Family and friends can also log on to check on the status of their loved ones.

The Salt Lake County Emergency Operations Center was activated because of the Wells quake.

Unified Fire Authority Capt. Jay Fearnley called it a "very low level" activation, which included planning, information gathering and coordinating with officials in Nevada.

"We're in touch with Wells, Nevada, to find out what kind of damage, to determine if they need any resources from us," he said.


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