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Tiny Nevada town still recovering from 2008 6.0 quake

Reported by: Denise Rosch
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Updated: 7/17/2014 6:00 am

LAS VEGAS (KSVN — "It sounded like a train running off the tracks."

That's how one witness described the 6.0 earthquake that rocked the tiny town of Wells on Feb. 21, 2008. It was the biggest jolt in Nevada in recent years.

The seismograph at UNLV recorded the motion of the ground, and chances are many Las Vegans couldn't find Wells on a map.

Stick around Wells long enough, and the subject may very well turn to earthquakes and the 6.0 that shook this rural northern Nevada town near the Utah border six years ago.

"My wife jumped up from her chair and just stood there shocked. I was hollering at her to sit down," said Wells resident Eldon Walker.

The rumbling lasted 43 seconds and was enough to topple brick facades and damage to as many as 70 buildings. It shook up a town of only 1,300 people.

City Manager Jolene Supp says a video memorializing that day is still tough to watch.

"When earthquakes come they tell you to duck, cover and hold, and I’ve told people it takes everything in you not to run out because everything in you says get out, but that's the worst thing you can do because of falling debris," Supp said.

Supp says in many ways her town was lucky. The quake hit at 6:15 a.m. when most businesses were closed. Aside from a few broken bones, no serious injuries were reported.

But Wells suffered more than $10 million in damage. Some of the crumbling buildings still stand as they did that day.

Others, like the old City Hall, have been replaced with new facilities. Others are now under construction.

"Post-traumatic stress syndrome is one of the biggest undocumented issues that we had, and now we realize the year after the earthquake we had more funerals then we had in the 30 years I have lived here. Stress on elderly folks, on frail folks," Supp said. "It was tough for us."

"It was like the earth heaved and then it started shaking," said Wells business owner Yvonne Stuart.

Back then Stuart owned the town grocery store. She remembers vividly how residents pulled together to help each other. A bonus, you might say, of small town life was where everyone cheers for the same high school and knows their neighbors by name.

"My thought was for the people what are they going to do? They need water; they need things," Stuart said. "They need the store open. So my first thing is get open, enough."

Today, Stuart is president of the Wells Chamber of Commerce and determined to rebuild the downtown area. Leaving, she says, was simply never an option.

"Because the last earthquake was 100 years before that, so you say to yourself another 100 years, I guess I can handle that," Stuart said.

But if the quake was a surprise to residents, it was to geologists too. The fault running through this area was undocumented, undiscovered until the ground started shaking. Now lessons learned here in Wells can be applied all over the state.

"Emergency management plans are important. We were small enough and the administration versed in emergency management that we could handle things at our level, but Las Vegas, as big as they are, I would say review your emergency management plan keep them up to date," Supp said.

When you consider that scientists had listed Wells' chances of a magnitude earthquake is 12 percent.

The chances in Las Vegas are exactly the same.



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