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5.7-magnitude earthquake shakes Salt Lake City and surrounding areas

The quake, the state's largest since 1992, knocked out power to tens of thousands of households and businesses and disrupted some government efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Image: Salt Lake City earthquake
Construction workers at a building after an earthquake in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.Rick Bowmer / AP

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Salt Lake City early Wednesday, knocking out power to tens of thousands of households and businesses, shuttering the area's airport and disrupting some government efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The quake struck about 4 miles northeast of Magna, Utah, which is 15 miles west of Salt Lake City, just after 7 a.m. local time. Dozens of aftershocks followed, one reaching magnitude 4.5.

The state's Department of Emergency Management said aftershocks were likely to continue throughout the day, and officials urged people to shelter in place. The initial quake, the state's largest since 1992, was felt from Logan to Riverton, which are about 100 miles apart.

People reported feeling the quake from as far away as Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada, The Associated Press reported.

"The strongest shaking seems to have been felt around Salt Lake County. The power has been knocked out in some areas," the department said. Rocky Mountain Power said that about 55,000 customers lost power and that it was working to "restore power as soon as possible."

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Coronavirus testing came to a stop Wednesday, and the state's coronavirus hotline was not operational following the quake, Health Department spokeswoman Jenny Johnson told NBC News. Some of the personnel working the 24/7 hotline during the quake were "not in a good head space," and all of them were sent home, she said.

Coronavirus update posts on the Health Department's website would also likely be delayed, Johnson said.

The Salt Lake City School District, which serves more than 23,000 students, said Wednesday morning that because of the earthquake it could not provide meals, food boxes and computers it has been supplying to families while schools are shuttered by the coronavirus outbreak. "We hope to be able to resume these programs tomorrow," the district tweeted.

Gov. Gary Herbert asked residents to stay away from downtown Salt Lake City to allow crews to assess the area. "Unless you work in public safety or are an essential employee, remain at home or telework," he said.

State emergency management spokesman Joe Dougherty told The AP that authorities did not expect extensive damage. "We're hearing of lights falling down, bookcases falling down. We've heard of water lines breaking inside of buildings," Dougherty said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' iconic temple in downtown Salt Lake City, which was undergoing construction for a seismic upgrade, suffered minor damage, said Daniel Woodruff, a spokesman for the church.

"The trumpet on the Angel Moroni statue fell off, and there is minor displacement of some of the temple's smaller spire stones," Woodruff said, adding that crews working there were sent home. "This event emphasizes why this project is so necessary to preserve this historic building and create a safer environment for all our patrons and visitors."

Salt Lake City International Airport shut down. "The FAA tower, terminals and concourses have been evacuated," said a tweet from the airport. "The road to the airport has been opened, so that passengers can be picked-up."

All trains on the Salt Lake Valley's light rail system, TRAX, also came to a halt and pulled into the nearest stations, according to the state's transit authority. The rail system, FrontRunner, was operating at restricted speeds while crews inspected the line for damage.

The state Transportation Department said crews were checking roads for damage. "So far there doesn't appear to be any, but we're checking everything out, specifically our bridges," the agency said in a tweet.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall pointed out that the quake's timing was especially bad in light of disruptions already caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I know the last thing we need right now is an earthquake, but here we are," she wrote in a tweet. "The City is assessing the situation now and I'll circle back with an update when I have it. Be safe."