(NOTE: Today at 10:18 AM PDT Nevada held the 2012 Great Nevada ShakeOut as part of the larger Great ShakeOut program. It is a simulation of a major earthquake. What follows is a fictional account of a massive earthquake near Reno, Nevada. This blog is not associated with the Great Nevada ShakeOut program. The location of the fault, scale, and timing have little geologic or scientific basis except to note that the Sierra Nevada mountain range is currently being pushed up by slow geologic forces. The fault line of this fiction earthquake roughly follows the eastern boundary of the Sierra Nevada batholith.)
Reno, Nevada, October 18, 2012, 6:42 PM
At 10:18 AM it struck. Four hundred miles along the Sierra Nevada mountain range suddenly jerked up 15 to 20 feet along a newly discovered fault line that runs 400 miles from near Susanville, California south to a point 40 miles southwest of Bakersville, California. The 7.9 earthquake lasted for 3:23 minutes and was an apparent upward movement of the Sierra Nevada block.
Damage included the loss of several dams in the Sierra Nevada range that caused downstream flooding. The worst of this flooding occurred in Reno, Nevada and along the Truckee River. Severe damage to Interstate 80 and roads through the Sierra Nevada range will prevent any travel between northern Nevada and northern California for at least several days, if not weeks. Multiple bridges are damaged or destroyed and rock falls and ground shifting will require rebuilding significant sections of many roads.
Reno and Carson City have the worst damage in populated areas with many homes and buildings uninhabitable. Damage to power, water, gas, and sewer lines will cause those services to be out for several weeks in many areas. Reno has become the most isolated as all roads into Reno have been damaged to the point they are not passable at this time. US 50 is reported to be open with some buckling and cracking east of Carson City, but still passable.
Several fires occurred as a result of the earthquake. Most were localized; however, one structure fire near the National Forest west of Reno and one near Carson City did ignite grass and brush that eventually grew and currently is burning on the slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada range. Emergency crews are already overtaxed in addressing the immediate needs of the people in the Reno and Carson City areas and the forest fires will be allowed to burn until cool weather extinguishes them. Smoke from the fires is expected to fill the valleys tonight as temperatures drop and the mountain air moves into the lower elevations.
The Reno-Tahoe airport has been closed as damage is assessed. The terminal and parking structure were heavily damaged; however there is no visible damage to the runways that can be seen from the fence bordering the airport.
There are no official reports of casualties; however, several news agencies have reported that at least 21 people are dead and that number is expected to rise over the next few days as rescue and emergency services reach the area. Multiple accounts of survivors rescuing victims trapped in collapsed structures are being reported and construction equipment has been brought into the downtown area of Reno as multiple buildings have partially or completely collapsed.
The University of Nevada, Reno is closed and has multiple damaged buildings; however, no deaths have been reported even though many classes were in session. Damage at several elementary, middle, and high schools have been reported, but earthquake training has been credited with preventing many injuries and death.