Pahrump Valley Times

On shaky ground — Hector earthquake rattles nerves but little else in PV

Wednesday, October 20,1999

Doug McMurdo and Henry Brean

With the exception of shaking people awake and rattling nerves, Pahrump residents were none the worse for wear early Saturday morning after an earthquake rolled though the, valley.

The powerful quake, originally pegged at 7.0 and later upgraded to 7.1 on the Richter scale, was centered under Southern California's Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base located in the Mojave Desert. It derailed an Amtrak train carrying 155 passengers from Chicago to Los Angeles near Joshua Tree, Calif, and damaged two overpasses along I-40. Fortunately, only a few train passengers were injured.

There were no deaths reported, though the rumblings of the earthquake were felt from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Officials at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix reported the control tower there shook for 10 minutes. In Sunday's edition of the. "Las Vegas Review-Journal," tourists told reporters that the various strip hotels they stayed in rocked back and forth for several minutes. Some structures reportedly "creaked and groaned," creating some apprehension, particularly from those who had never experienced an earthquake before.

In Pahrump, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Duga said there were no calls for assistance from the public after the temblor shook the valley at about 2:46 am. The Hector Mine earthquake, as it was named by the U.S. Geological Survey, was followed by a series of aftershocks that were felt locally, including three of magnitude 5. 0 or greater.

Lucky Manager Don Veltri said the earthquake failed to knock a single item off of a shelf, but it did provide a few anxious moments for the roughly 25 employees on duty at the time.

According to Veltri, he and the employees were taking inventory when be noticed the milk racks were moving six inches back and forth. "It was like a wave, I thought I was hallucinating," said Veltri. "I was thinking I needed a night's sleep until I saw every sign, in the store waving back and forth. I got on the (public address system) and told everybody to hold on."

A few jars were "knocked off of a shelf' at Smith's Food and Drug in Pahrump but there was "no appreciable damage," according to a spokeswoman from the store's corporate office in Utah

At Terrible's Town, meanwhile, spokeswoman Lee Kielski said the only sign of the earthquake could be detected above the bar, where surveillance cameras captured lanterns swinging back and forth.

On Monday several local insurance companies reported receiving only minor damage claims from residents — a fact that surprised one agent who asked for anonymity. "Pahrump did pretty well with this earthquake," the agent said, "and that impresses me given the way some of the houses out here are built."

Had the epicenter been closer to a populated area, experts say the earthquake could have caused catastrophic damage, According to the California Institute of Technology, the Hector Mine earthquake was three times powerful as the Northridge quake that caused dozens of deaths and billions of dollars in damage near San Francisco in 1994.

"We were all lucky this one was so far away," said Brian Brown, owner of the China Ranch Date Farm near Tecopa, Calif.

Though roughly 40 miles closer to the quake's epicenter than Pahrump, the ranch escaped Saturday's quake with no real damage. "It was a real violent right-to-left shake," Brown said. "A few things fell off shelves, but that was it."

There were also no reports of earthquake damage at the Yucca Mountain Project's Exploratory Studies Facility, a five-mile tunnel that extends through the mountain 20 miles east of Beatty. However, Saturday's seismic activity has yielded some interesting data for the Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office.

Claire Muirhead, a hydrogeologist for the county's oversight office, spent much of Monday downloading information from four county monitoring wells near Yucca Mountain, all of which experienced at least some change in water level near the time of the quake. The greatest fluctuation was about a foot, Muirhead &aid after what she called a "cursory look" at the data "I'd say it's not a coincidence," she said. "This happened right about the time of the earthquake."

Muirhead added that it, is not unusual to see changes in subsurface water levels right after an earthquake. "There weren't any wild fluctuations or anything, but it is interesting," she said.

As part of its Early Warning Drilling Program., the county maintains five bore holes that are instrumented for continuous monitoring. One of the bore holes is located on the Nevada Test Site, and Muirhead said she plans to check that one this week.

During the last two months, three other earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher have occurred worldwide., In Turkey and Taiwan, over 20,000 people died. In North America an earthquake near Mexico City left 20 dead

Caltech scientists said the area surrounding the Hector Mine epicenter may experience up to a half-dozen aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 or greater in the coming week, and thousands of smaller aftershocks will continue for the next 10 years.