This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Updated: 8:10 PM- WELLS, Nev. - Store fronts rattled, chimneys tumbled. Walls cracked. Treasured pictures and possessions fell from walls and shelves. An earthquake changed the face of this town, leaving many of its people wondering how to rebuild their homes and lives.
As of tonight, the Red Cross estimated that 40 families had been displaced by the quake. While firefighters have conducted quick visual inspections and marked many buildings as unsafe, authorities are organizing building inspectors throughout northern Nevada who can come to Wells.
"This is it for us," said Matt Holford, 50, whose home became unlivable in the quake but has no earthquake insurance. "We're just absolutely screwed."
Holford was one of the thousands of Nevada and Utah residents who felt today's 7:16 a.m. earthquake, which registered 6.0. Only minor injuries were reported in Wells, but buildings swayed as far away as Salt Lake City.
Nearly everyone in town has reported some kind of damage, from collapsed chimneys to broken windows. Residents recounted pictures falling off the walls and furniture vibrating across rooms.
The earthquake "felt like somebody grabbed one end of my house, picked it up and just started shaking it," said Wells Mayor Rusty Tybo. "It was pretty intense for 35 or 40 seconds."
Aftershocks continued through the day but caused no further damage. The county commission here has declared a state of emergency in the hopes of receiving federal assistance.
In downtown Wells, two 19th-century brick buildings - the El Rancho Hotel and the Bullshead - had masonry fall away from their facades onto the street below.
The building's owners, Peg and Gene Kaplan, live in an apartment in the El Rancho and had been been promoting the neighborhood as a historical district. The Bullshead, the town's first bar, suffered the most severe damage, with almost the entire front of the building collapsing.
Mike Nannini, an Elko County commissioner and owner of the Fourway Bar Cafe and Casino, was sitting at a blackjack table in his casino when the quake struck. He said he told the few customers to get under the tables as some slot machines overturned.
"We heard a big explosion and the lights went out and the whole building started shaking," Nannini said.
Elko County School District Superintendent Antoinette Cavanaugh said today a structural engineer has determined Wells Junior-Senior High School sustained serious damage and is unsafe for students. School will not be held today, and Cavanaugh said tonight she didn't know when classes would resume.
Officials are considering transferring the 175 students to Elko, 50 miles away, or holding a double session in the Wells Elementary School.
"We have to allow our families to take care of each other," Cavanaugh said. "Kids can't focus on learning when there's family upheaval. Obviously, learning is our top priority, but the families need the opportunity to recover."
Most businesses here were closed today as the owners cleaned up or waited for building inspectors. Gas stations and the town grocery store were closed, leaving residents and travelers searching for fuel and food. The Red Cross and other charity organizations were on the scene today supplying meals and bottled water.
Elko County Undersheriff Rocky Gonzalez said his office would be working today to determine the extent of the damage and try to relieve local police officers who have their own family and homes to attend to.
Jeanne Koepnick, 59, burst into tears today as she surveyed a collection of antiques she spent 15 years accumulating before she moved to Wells, her childhood home, less than a month ago.
"This is thousands of dollars of damage," she said, picking up the broken remains of a china bowl on a newly-scarred coffee table. Of her 20 Tiffany lampshades, she says only four remain.
Dolly Breidel has lived here for two weeks and on today she was afraid to enter her house.
When she felt the tremors, Breidel ran out of her house wearing a nightgown and a coat. Hours later, she had dressed but said she feared being caught inside her house during another earthquake. The quake had caused enough damage to the interior walls that her house must be remodeled, she said.
"I'm going to pack everything back up and start over," Breidel said.
Ken Grandjean said he woke up seconds before a shelf of glassware crashed onto his futon.
"I thought a train had derailed and was crashing into my house," he said. "Everything on the walls came down."
Books, dishes and a broken set of American Indian clay bowls covered his floor.
"I'm physically exhausted, mentally stressed," he said. "The last thing I want to do is clean. It looks like some juvenile delinquents went in and trashed the place."
Matt Holford ran outside his house when the trembling began, just in time to watch the facade of a neighboring building collapse. He returned to his house - a renovated bank, first built in 1911 - to find the concrete walls halved by a lateral crack around the entire building. As tremors continued throughout the day, the crack around the building widened.
"My back hurts, my neck hurts, my head hurts, just from the concussions of the earthquake," Holford said.