Before the Shaking Starts: Living in the shadow of Utah’s next big earthquake

Trevor Quirk in Guernica:

We chased the fault line south of Salt Lake City, just past the Cottonwood Canyons, to a small ridge that overlooked a reservoir as silver as the sky. It was October, during a cold drizzle, and the sun was lofted behind the clouds like a shineless mothball. My brother, a Ph.D. student in geology, explained that what appeared to me as indistinct knolls and dips were “expressions” where the fault had deformed the Earth above it. I had spent the day looking at the ground or aiming my eye down my brother’s extended arm to identify subtleties like this. When my gaze finally returned to the Wasatch Mountains, the vision was fresh and horrifying. They were monster-like, tyratnnizing the skyline with their beauty. Under their jagged eminence, my brother and I felt burdened with our knowledge of the region’s fate.

Earthquakes had invaded my dreaming. I sometimes lay awake, panicked by the slightest tremble of my nightstand or groan from the innards of my home. I pictured the Earth shattering in twilight, then, in seconds, my girlfriend and me struggling to breathe under the rubble of our house. Our dog squealing. Distant sirens echoing through the old neighborhoods south of the city. The Wasatch Front, a regional section of the larger Wasatch Range which carves and rolls from Utah into Idaho, is due for an earthquake that will dwarf the quakes of Utah’s last century—at least 7 on the moment magnitude scale.

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