Earthquake rattles millions on edge amid coronavirus threat

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Construction workers looks at the rubble from a building 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)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With much of normal life at a screeching halt to combat the coronavirus, millions of people in Utah are hunkered down in the safety of their homes. But on Wednesday morning, even that protection felt fragile as an earthquake strong enough to shut down the airport tore through the Salt Lake City area.

Though no one was hurt, the magnitude 5.7 earthquake chipped away at an already thin sense of security. Michelle Daneri, 30, emerged from her apartment for the first time in days to search for her frightened cat and questioned whether she can still rely on one of her last safe spaces.

“I hope there isn’t lasting damage, because if I had to move at a time like this I don’t know what I’d do,” she said. Others reported books thrown from shelves, swinging chandeliers and fallen pottery.

About 100 other people were driven from buildings and homes by damage near the epicenter in Magna, a working-class suburb between the airport and Great Salt Lake west of the capital city. Tens of thousands more lost power after the state’s largest quake in nearly three decades.

A chemical plume was released at a nearby copper mine, and airplane passengers were temporarily stranded. Bricks showered onto sidewalks. The temblor shook the trumpet from the hand of a golden angel statute atop the iconic Salt Lake Temple of the state’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

About 2.8 million people felt the initial shaking that lasted up to 15 seconds, some running outside in panic, and aftershocks continued through the day. The effects rippled into neighboring Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada.

Marsha Guertzgen of Evanston, Wyoming, was about to board a flight in Salt Lake when the quake struck. “Pandemonium and chaos” immediately erupted, heightened by each aftershock, she said.

“Everybody was running around. They were scared. I don’t think they knew what was going on," Guertzgen said. "People were screaming, kids were screaming, people were climbing under things.”