The U.S. Geological Service recorded a powerful magnitude 6.5 earthquake in a remote region of western Nevada Friday morning.
Sensors detected the temblor just after 4 a.m. near Tonopah, east of the Sierra Nevada.
Nevada Seismological Laboratory Director Graham Kent said the quake was historic.
“That is the largest quake to strike Nevada since 1954,” he said. “In a sense, it ended a 66 year drought.”
According to a Facebook video posted by Nye County Sheriff Sharon Werhly, however, damage was limited.
“A cursory windshield survey discovered some broken windows in Tonopah,” she said.
Parts of US Route 95 were also fractured and temporarily closed for repairs, but the Nevada Department of Transportation reopened the highway Friday afternoon.
Kent says Nevada dodged a bullet because a quake that big could have severe consequences if it hit a city like Reno.
“We would lose our stock of unreinforced masonry buildings. If not entirely, mostly,” he said. “So a lot of the buildings you see on Virginia Street in Midtown for example, they wouldn’t be coming back. And hopefully folks would not have been in them to be injured or worse.”
Reno lies on the Walker Lane, which is the same fault system that caused the quake. Experts expect the formation to separate California from North America in the next 10 million years.
Some reports estimated the chance of the earthquake triggering even stronger aftershocks to be extremely low — around 4 percent. But Kent says based on past seismological activity in the region, the chances of that were substantially higher.
“In Nevada, Eastern California, that number might get as high as 20, 25 percent of the time,” he said. “We keep seeing this pattern a lot. Not every time, but I think more than that 4 percent would tell you.”
Kent pointed out that in July 2019, the magnitude-7.1 Ridgecrest quake was presaged by a magnitude 6.4 temblor.
“This earthquake we had this morning is like that first earthquake,” he said.
According to the USGS, there were at least six more aftershocks, including two with magnitudes of 5.4.
The Associated Press reports people logged onto social media from Salt Lake City, Utah to California’s Central Valley, saying they felt the quake.
Kent says residents should prepare for the next one now.
“We like to think everything’s the way it is and it doesn’t change that much,” he said. “I think the last few months we’ve learned with the pandemic that that’s not the case.”
More information about the risks and how to prepare is available at shakeout.org/nevada.
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