Lorina Dellinger knew exactly what was happening when she woke up to her house shaking early Friday morning.
As her home swayed back and forth, sending ceiling fans and chandeliers swinging, she ran downstairs to check on her kids.
The ground rapidly lurched for what felt like five minutes, she said. But in reality, Dellinger thinks the shaking lasted a total of 15 seconds.
What she was feeling was Nevada’s largest earthquake in 66 years, a magnitude 6.5 temblor epicentered along US Route 95 about 36 miles from Tonopah. It struck at roughly 4:03 a.m. at a depth of three miles.
That location is about 130 miles from Nevada’s infamous Area 51.
Shaking was reportedly felt across three states, from southern Utah to central California. Thousands of people reported light to moderate shaking to the United States Geological Service in Reno, Las Vegas, Fresno and Sacramento.
Dellinger’s kids were fine, she told the Reno Gazette Journal Friday morning, just a little shaken up. For the next hour or so, her family rode out a series of strong aftershocks — the largest of which measured a magnitude 5.1.
The strongest aftershocks recorded thus far happened in the hour immediately after the mainshock. Six of them registered above a 4.5.
Once the ground began to settle, Dellinger, who’s the Nye County assistant manager, began thinking about the rest of Tonopah fared through the shaking.
Reports began filing in.
Tonopah, a historic mining town about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, is known mostly for its reputation as an early 1900’s gold and silver boomtown.
Several iconic buildings from that era still line Tonopah’s main street, including the Mizpah and Belvada hotels — the two oldest buildings still standing.
Those historic buildings reportedly made it through the shaking fine, according to Dellinger, and the town’s building and grounds crew has been dispatched to check other buildings for damage.
In neighboring Esmeralda County, the quake fractured US 95 in several places so badly the highway had to be closed.
Photos of the damage posted to the Esmeralda County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page show a large fracture along at least two sections of the highway.
Another, looking down the road, appears to show where the road had shifted slightly sideways
So far, everything in Tonopah appears OK and no injuries have been reported, Dellinger said.
But the crew was still doing checks Friday, and Dellinger had not yet received word on the building she’s most concerned about — Tonopah’s old courthouse, which is slated for refurbishment but has deteriorated over the years.
Buildings like it — constructed of unreinforced masonry long before modern seismic code — are notoriously unstable when the ground begins to move.
“(Earthquakes) are always a concern because we want to make sure our historic buildings are preserved, and when it’s something out of your hands hopefully it’s not devastating,” Dellinger said.
Friday’s magnitude 6.5 is the largest earthquake to have hit that area since 1934, when another magnitude 6.5 struck 24 miles to the northwest. Just before that in 1932, a magnitude 6.8 struck 30 miles to the north.
The last major earthquake the area experienced was a magnitude 5.1 in 2013.
About two dozen earthquakes in the magnitude 5 range have occurred within 65 miles of this area over the past 50 years, according to Nevada Seismological Lab release.
The quake occurred in the Walker Lane Seismic Region, a 60-mile wide zone of active faults that straddles the Nevada-California border. That fault system stretches from the Mojave Desert in Southern California, through the Sierra Nevada, north through western Nevada and the Reno area and back into California.
Fueled by the same tectonic activity that powers the infamous San Andreas fault, the Walker Lane is responsible for the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquake in Southern California and is also suspected of causing a recent magnitude 4.5 earthquake near Carson City.
Sam Gross is a breaking news reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal who covers wildfires, emergencies and more. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.
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