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Nevada highway damaged by largest area quake in 65 years

Earthquake outside Reno, Nevada on May 15, 2020.
Earthquake outside Reno, Nevada on May 15, 2020. (USGS)

TONOPAH, Nev. – The cracked main highway between Las Vegas and Reno reopened Friday, 10 hours after a predawn magnitude 6.5 earthquake that a researcher called the largest to strike the remote area of western Nevada in 65 years.

No injuries were reported, but officials said goods tumbled from market shelves, sidewalks heaved and storefront windows cracked shortly after 4 a.m. People from Salt Lake City to California’s Central Valley tweeted that they felt shaking.

Lights swayed at the governor’s mansion in Carson City, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told reporters. “It woke me up, so it definitely had an impact,” he said.

Nevada Highway Patrol photos showed cracks on U.S. 95 before crews repaired them about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Tonopah. A detour to State Route 360 had added more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) to motorists' trips.

The vast open range east of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada is seismically active, said Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. He ranked Friday's event with twin December 1954 earthquakes at Fairview Peak and Dixie Valley. Kent said those temblors were magnitudes 7.1 and 6.8, respectively.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Friday's temblor struck just east of the Sierra Nevada. It was initially reported at 6.4-magnitude.

It was centered about 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers) deep, the agency said, and dozens of aftershocks were recorded. Kent said a 5.1 magnitude aftershock struck about 30 minutes after the initial quake.

State troopers and sheriff's patrols from Esmeralda and surrounding Mineral and Nye counties checked highways for possible damage. A sheriff's dispatcher in the historic mining boom town of Goldfield said the 112-year-old Esmeralda County Courthouse escaped damage.

Nye County sheriff's Capt. David Boruchowitz reported no damage at the Mizpah Hotel and Clown Motel, two landmark businesses in Tonopah, a mining hub about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno.

Keith Hasty, a Tonopah gas station employee, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that groceries were shaken off shelves and that residents said their televisions shook.

Nye County spokesman Arnold Knightly reported broken storefront glass, stress cracks on asphalt streets, loose hanging signs, items knocked off shelves and minor lifting of sidewalks.

“Overall, everything appears to be sound at this point," Knightly said. “”However, we have learned that other than obvious earthquake damage some damage is discovered later."

Last July, a 56-year-old backyard mechanic was found dead in Pahrump four days after strong quakes struck near Ridgecrest, California, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) away. Investigators said it appeared a Jeep he was repairing wobbled off its support jacks.

State seismic network manager Ken Smith noted that Friday’s earthquake happened a few miles east of the site of a magnitude 6.2 temblor in July 1986 in California’s Chalfant Valley.

Larger earthquakes in the region in the last century included a 6.5-magnitude temblor in 1934 and a magnitude 6.8 quake in 1932, the state seismology lab said.

A 6-magnitude earthquake in February 2008 damaged hundreds of structures in the northeast Nevada town of Wells, including its historic El Rancho Hotel and Casino. Officials recently announced plans to restore the hotel.

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This story has been corrected to reference U.S. Geological Survey, not Service.

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Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.