LAS VEGAS — When a pair of strong earthquakes jolted the eastern portion of southern California last week, many in the United States might not have realized that surrounding areas felt them too.
One of those was Las Vegas, about two hours from the epicenter of both quakes – a small town called Ridgecrest – which sustained some damage from the magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 quakes, as they were recorded on the Richter scale. However, as strong as those would have seemed, the effects were actually quite limited because of where they were centered.
“It’s because it’s in a rural area,” said Marian Mason, a former Murray resident now residing in Vegas and who experienced both quakes last week. “The first one? We didn’t even feel it, or if we did, we didn’t recognize it right away. The second one? Yeah, we felt that one quite well.
“I was sitting outside on my porch (Friday night) and the best way I can describe it is that it felt like the entire house had a chill. The entire house kind of quivered. Now, I had one of my dogs with me and she was prompted to jump into my lap, so I first thought, ‘Oh, it’s just my dog.’ Then a friend of mine came outside from his house and he asks, ‘Hey! Did you feel that? My blinds started going to the left and then the right!’”
Mason said damage in Vegas was minimal. She said news reports she has seen since the quake indicate that the worst damage was inside some businesses that have glass merchandise positioned on shelves, such as liquor or grocery stores. No injuries were reported and no structural damage was reported, she added.
As for Vegas residents’ nerves, though, she said that was another story.
“People are worried, and what’s really interesting is that we’ve been having a heavy migration of Californians coming to Nevada because the cost of living for the middle class in California is so high, they can’t afford it,” said Mason, who is the director of engineering creative services at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “People living in San Francisco are heading to Reno and people in Los Angeles are heading to Las Vegas.
“They may not want to do that, though, because as it turns out, and I was surprised to see this, Nevada ranks third in the country for seismic activity. Alaska is first, followed by California, but not too many people realize that Nevada has that much every year.”
Mason knows about quakes quite well and she said she still finds it surprising that Friday night’s 7.1 quake did not cause widespread damage. In 1989, a quake that was less intense on the Richter scale — 6.9 —but caused $5 billion in damage and killed 67 people in San Francisco, where Mason was living at the time.
“I’ve managed to be in the wrong place at the right time, or right place at the wrong time, whatever you want to call it, for some big events,” said Mason, who recalled how she and several others survived the ’89 quake.
“I was at work in a 21-floor high rise that is pretty much made of glass. I was on the 17th floor and we were all working and the first thing I remember, and I think this is true of everyone else, was the sound. It sounded like a freight train and that sound got louder and louder. Then, the building went up and down first, then started moving sideways. We had filing cabinets falling, people diving under desks, but the thing I’ll remember most is how everyone started fearing that the glass would break from the windows, so everyone was trying to get as far away from the windows as they could.
“I remember there was a woman in the office who just started crying, and became totally frozen, so I grabbed her and got her to safety. Then, when the shaking stopped, we all looked at each other and asked, ‘OK, how do we get out of here?’”
Mason said everyone on her floor made the 17-floor trek to the ground by using a stairwell. Then they discovered that the sidewalk had been thrust upward, causing several co-workers to fall as they stepped out of the building.
Relieved that they were out of the building, the employees of the South Francisco company then faced a new challenge. Their vehicles were all parked in an underground garage beneath the building. Mason said she was the second employee to take the chance of retrieving her vehicle.
“I had just bought a new Honda Accord and I wasn’t about to let it get crushed. So I went in and got it,” she said, remembering what she saw a few blocks later. “There was someone whose car was stopped next to me and I looked over at him and he had a beer, and I mean he was guzzling it behind the wheel. He didn’t care, and I don’t think anyone else did either that day.”
Friday’s experience was obviously not that dramatic. In ’89, sights such as the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge having suffered a partial collapse, the Marina District ablaze after gas lines ruptured and the double-deck Nimitz Expressway pancaked riveted viewers worldwide.
“Here, we were fine,” Mason said. “Now, what happens from here is what everyone wants to know. I mean, out here, everybody has been waiting for California to slip into the ocean, so that talk is probably going to start up again. And I’m sure we’ll have an uptick in the number of Californians coming here.
“I talked to a Realtor the other day and she told me that five out of every 10 sales she makes are for people from California coming here.”