Hawthorne-area quakes cause little damage, but if it happened in Reno...

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HAWTHORNE/RENO, Nev. (KOLO) A series of earthquakes, the strongest registering 5.5 to 5.7, shook northern Nevada shortly early Wednesday morning. The were felt over a wide area but the quakes shook hardest in Hawthorne just 18 miles from the epicenter.

It was--people tell us--an unnerving experience in Hawthorne. Items came tumbling from shelves. There was some damage to merchandise at the local Safeway store, but no apparent structural damage. Like the rest of us Hawthorne dodged a bullet.

"Luckily it wasn't underneath Hawthorne or any other populated area of our state," said Graham Kent, the director of the Seismology Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. "Had it been in the Reno area for example you'd probably be looking at a billion-dollar event, injuries, potential fatalities, significant damage to a lot of the unreinforced masonry buildings. Midtown would not be functioning probably."

There's nothing unique about the earth under the Hawthorne area. There are scores of faults there, just as there are just about anywhere in northern Nevada.

"There's a map up on the wall there that has about a hundred faults within the greater Truckee Meadows area."

That makes December 28's earthquakes a timely reminder that we live with this potential every day.

Over the years, Kent says, we've gotten the message about what to do during a quake.

"People are learning to drop, cover and hold on. Having food, a family plan to meet somewhere other than their house in case their neighborhood is closed down."

But he says as a community we're not doing what we should. In fact we're making it worse.

"We should be trying to move away from rehabbing unreinforced masonry buildings and making businesses out of them," says Kent, "because it just takes an odd 6.0 earthquake to bring that whole thing down.

And he adds in an obvious reference to the popular Midtown area, "We've done that in Reno almost as a plan. That's not a smart thing to do."

In other words, he says, we're not ready and we should be getting ready because sooner or later we will get hit.

A good first step, he says, is earthquake insurance, and not just for personal individual reasons. It would, he says, serve as a economic stimulus creating jobs in the aftermath of a disaster, helping to kickstart our recovery.