Quakes near Hawthorne leave little damage; Reno result would be different

Published: Dec. 28, 2016 at 6:01 PM PST
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A series of earthquakes rattled northern Nevada and parts of California shortly after midnight the morning of December 28, 2016.

It was felt over a wide area. An old ranch house close to the epicenter was heavily damaged, but the closest population was in Hawthorne just 18 miles away.

It was--people tell us--an unnerving experience. Items came tumbling from shelves. There was some damage to merchandise at the local Safeway store, but no apparent structural damage.

"Luckily it wasn't underneath Hawthorne or any other populated area of our state," said Graham Kent, 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," he says.

That makes Wednesday'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 need to be personally responsible. They're 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 be. We should be trying to move away from rehabbing unreinforced masonry buildings and making businesses out of them because it just takes an odd 6.0 earthquake to bring that whole thing down. And 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, tomorrow, next year, fifty years from now, 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 an economic stimulus creating jobs in the aftermath of a disaster, helping to kickstart our recovery.