WELLS, Nevada – A powerful earthquake damaged hundreds of homes, toppled chimneys and reduced part of a historic district to rubble, but residents of this rural northeastern Nevada town are grateful it wasn't worse.
No one was killed and no serious injuries were reported after the magnitude-6.0 quake jolted the high desert town at 6:16 a.m. Thursday and rumbled across much of the West.
About 20 to 25 buildings suffered heavy damage in the largely vacant historic district of Wells, where brick facades tumbled off several buildings, signs fell and windows broke. A support beam crushed one unoccupied car.
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"There are a number of buildings that look completely destroyed," Governor Jim Gibbons said late Thursday after surveying the damage. "Bricks and mortar and foundations are just about all that is left of them right now."
Gibbons said nearly everyone was safe, citing just three minor injuries.
"I think we were just blessed that Mother Nature struck when it did ... rather than some time later on when the people would be out and about and the sidewalks might have had more people on them when these structures came down," he said.
County commissioners declared a state of emergency in Wells and the town of about 1,600 was closed to all but residents, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini was standing in the middle of the 4-way Cafe & Casino in Wells when the quake began.
"The walls and ceilings started coming down. Almost all of the businesses are shut down. We have no services and no fuel," he said at an emergency meeting of the county commissioners.
Almost all the 700 residential structures in town had some damage, said Tom Turk, a state spokesman at the scene.
"It just immediately jumped into rattling the walls," said Donna Anderson, who was at the Wagon Wheel residential motel when the quake hit. She said it seemed like the shaking went on for "five or six hours."
"I wasn't terribly scared but it felt like everything was just going to crumble down around us," Anderson said.
The temblor, centered in a sparsely populated area east of Wells, was felt from northern Idaho and Utah to Southern California, officials said. As many as 30 aftershocks were reported.
"It was scary, the scariest thing ever," said Karen Swabb, who lives southeast of Wells in Clover Valley.
"I never imagined it could be like that," she said, adding that friends in Wells told her "one of their fish flew out of the bowl."
By nightfall, about 40 families had registered at a temporary shelter the American Red Cross helped set up at an elementary school.
Wells High School suffered damage and was to remain closed Friday.
Dan Burns, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, said crews were inspecting roads, bridges and dams for structural damage.
Newmont Mining Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard O'Brien said an inspection of the underground gold mines in the area "found no deficiencies."
Located along the California Trail traveled by Western pioneers, Wells was founded by Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s. Thursday's quake temporarily disrupted the railroad now owned by Union Pacific.
Tony Lowry, an assistant professor of geophysics at Utah State University, said the size of the quake and its location was unusual.
"In that part of Nevada, I don't think we've seen any like that in the last 150 years or so," Lowry said. "It's not one of the places we would've looked or expected."
By Thursday afternoon, store owners were taking the cleanup effort in stride.
"It's Mother Nature," said Mitch Smith, owner of the Wells Auto and Hardware store, who was cleaning up spilled paint and other debris. "What good would it do to be upset? We've already decided to have a half-off sale on dented cans of paint."