5.7 magnitude earthquake in Utah knocks out power to thousands and diverts flights

Earthquake Utah
Police officers walk pass rubble after an earthquake Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Salt Lake City. A 5.7-magnitude earthquake has shaken the city and many of its suburbs. The quake sent panicked residents running to the streets, knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and closed the city's airport and its light rail system.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(CNN) — A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Utah’s Salt Lake City area Wednesday morning, cutting power to tens of thousands and suspending work at the state’s public health lab amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

Flights to Salt Lake International Airport were being diverted, departures were postponed, and terminals and concourses were evacuated as workers inspected runways, the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The quake was centered about 10 miles west of Salt Lake City and near the city of Magna, starting at 7:09 a.m. MT, the US Geological Survey said.

This is the state’s most powerful quake since 1992, when a magnitude 5.9 temblor struck the St. George area, Utah’s Division of Emergency Management said.

Operations at the state’s public health laboratory were halted as the building is assessed for damage, the state Department of Health said. The state’s coronavirus hotline, which residents may call to request tests and seek information, was down after the quake, Gov. Gary Herbert said on Twitter.

More than 47,000 customers in the area were without power after the quake, Rocky Mountain Power’s website reported.

“Please stay away from the downtown area while crews assess damage,” Herbert said. “Unless you work in public safety, or are an essential employee, remain at home or telework.”

The quake comes as Utah residents, like people across the world, are adjusting to changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic, including canceling schools and limiting mass gatherings.

“I know the last thing we need right now is an earthquake, but here we are, and it sounds like aftershocks are likely,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said on Twitter.

“The city is assessing the situation now and I’ll circle back with an update when I have it. Be safe,” Mendenhall said.

Salt Lake’s airport, which was under a ground stop after the quake, said a road to the airport initially was closed after the quake, but eventually was reopened late Wednesday morning so passengers could be picked up.

The Utah Department of Transportation said it didn’t appear that the roads it’s responsible for were damaged, but workers were checking to make sure. Parts of Interstate 80 were temporarily closed so inspection crews could look at bridges, it said.

Several aftershocks had been recorded within 20 minutes of the main quake, according to the USGS.

Generally, in Utah, earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 happen once every 10 years, and quakes greater than magnitude 6 happen once every 50 years, the USGS says.

That statement takes into account instrumentation records dating back to 1962, and historical records dating back to the 1850s, the USGS says.

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