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Earthquake shakes Utah, rattling frayed coronavirus nerves

A man looked over rubble after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Salt Lake City on Wednesday, scaring residents and damaging buildings. No one was hurt.
A man looked over rubble after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Salt Lake City on Wednesday, scaring residents and damaging buildings. No one was hurt.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press/Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A moderate earthquake Wednesday near Salt Lake City shut down a major air traffic hub, damaged a spire atop a temple and frightened millions of people already on edge from the coronavirus pandemic. There were no reports of injuries.

The 5.7-magnitude quake just after 7 a.m. damaged the spire and statue atop the iconic Salt Lake Temple. Elsewhere, bricks were showered onto sidewalks and a chemical plume was released outside the city.

The epicenter was just southwest of Salt Lake City, between the airport and Great Salt Lake. It was felt by about 2.8 million people who were already hunkered down inside their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many ran outside in panic amid the shaking that lasted as long as 15 seconds.

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‘‘This is extremely bad timing, because we already have the coronavirus issue going on right now causing a lot of anxiety,” Governor Gary Herbert said.

Planes were diverted from Salt Lake City International Airport and the control tower and concourses were evacuated. Far fewer people than normal were in the airport, due to the coronavirus precautions. On a typical travel day, the airport would have had about 24,000 people inside and more making connections. But there were just 9,000 on Wednesday, making an evacuation easier. airport executive director Bill Wyatt said.

No runway damage was found and most of the damage in the terminal appeared to be caused by a broken water line, Wyatt said. Cargo and non-commercial flights resumed hours later, but commercial flights were delayed into the afternoon.

At Salt Lake Temple, the trumpet held by the Angel Moroni fell from the statue at the top of the temple and stones were displaced from the spire.

The temple is undergoing renovations and a seismic upgrade. Construction crews were sent home while the damage was assessed, church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a statement.

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Associated Press