WELLS, Nev. At about 9:30 a.m. Friday the old Wells City Hall, built in 1920, shook yet again, taking the latest temblor in stride, even if workers inside still can't.
"Oh, I hate it when that happens," said Wells City Clerk Sue Smith as she walked through the building. An hour later another one, stronger than the last, rattled the building again. And yet another an hour later.
Friday was being called by first responders as a day for the city's 1,800 residents to recover and assess the damages following Thursday's 6.0 magnitude earthquake here.
Rod Mothershed and Don Ray were parked at the Wells Elementary School with 10,000 gallons of potable water they brought from Elko after federal officials called them with news that 3,000 gallons per minute was leaking from several breaks in main drinking water lines.
But federal Division of Emergency Management spokesman Kim Toulouse said drinking water supplies to residents had been restored and that only four businesses Friday morning on the west side of town remained under a boil order.
Toulouse said two teams of inspectors would be going around town Friday to determine if Wells qualifies for federal emergency relief funds. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons Thursday gave Wells a state disaster area designation, which Toulouse said should help speed up the process of getting to a potential federal designation.
"We're doing a real quick assessment," he told reporters. A preliminary damage assessment was expected by Friday afternoon.
It cold take up to 48 hours to get the needed damage information to the state's governor, who then forwards a report that eventually could reach President George Bush for his approval to release federal monies. Toulouse said there may be public and individual federal assistance available, along with federal grants of up to $28,000 to help people recover and repair.
As for personal property losses inside homes, which was widespread in Wells, people are on their own.
California-based AAA Insurance catastrophe supervisor Neal Bonrud set up a desk Friday inside Wells Elementary School to help a few AAA clients in Wells and to answer questions of others. Most people in general, he said, don't have extra earthquake insurance, which without it homeowners would be on their own to cover repairs to any structural damages.
Wells High School was one of several large buildings that sustained significant structural damage, leaving school officials planning Friday on how, when and where students can return to class. A meeting is planned for 5 p.m. Saturday to talk about ideas like possible summer school, sharing the elementary school or using other large structurally sound buildings in Wells to house 171 high school and junior high students. The 123 elementary school students in Wells also had the day off Friday.
Overall, telephone lines, power, drinkable water supplies for residents and heat sources were all operating throughout Wells Friday. The next step for multiple agencies was to go door to door, checking each home in Wells for structural damage, unsafe water heaters or problem propane lines.
"There is a stress level there," said Wells Mayor Rusty Tybo. "I don't think there's a residence in the city that didn't suffer some kind of damage."
Particularly hard hit was the historic downtown district, which Tybo said the community was pinning its hopes on to further the city's recent economic development. Now that area is cordoned off with yellow police tape and will remain that way for some time.
"It's devastating," Tybo said about the extensive damage downtown. He figured most of the heavily damaged buildings will not be salvageable. "It's just heartbreaking to see it impacted."
Tybo and a roomful of responders at the elementary school got their marching orders early Friday from Nevada Division of Forestry's Rich Harvey, who urged everyone to be professional and cautious of residents who might be short tempered and to watch out for the curious, mainly high school students, who might want to get into buildings for a peek at the damage.
"This has been a huge impact on their lives," Harvey said about Wells residents after his briefing. "They're very stressed out. And then we come in and want to poke and prod them."
Gonzalez told reporters that "tempers" of frustrated and anxious residents may start to flare Friday as people clean up and wait for a knock on the door from an inspector or about word of state and federal relief funds. Business owners, he noted, will need to get an occupancy permit from a city engineer before they can reopen.
David Neale, director of emergency services for Red Cross in Salt Lake City, set up shelter and emergency services for residents at Wells Elementary School, where eight displaced people spent the night Thursday evening and where 200 meals were served. Neale said Red Cross would have a presence in Wells at least through the weekend and probably longer.
It was estimated that at least 25 homeowners were not able or chose not to return to their homes Thursday night, but most found temporary residence with friends, relatives or at motels. Andrea Woods considered going to Elko with her daughter, but she tried instead to sleep on a cot in the school, knowing she needed to be home the next day for an inspection of her heavily damaged home.
Woods was coming down with a cold, in pain from trying to sleep on a cot and tired from a sleepless night defined by tremors that shook the area periodically. The word she got from someone about when an inspector might arrive at her home was, "They said, they'll get there when they get there."And if that wasn't enough, it snowed on and off Friday throughout another cold winter day in Wells.
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