March 18, 2020 / 4:58 PM / 20 days ago

UPDATE 3-Utah hit by strongest quake in decades, airport shut

(Adds FAA, airport update)

By Daniel Trotta and David Shepardson

March 18 (Reuters) - The most powerful earthquake to hit Utah in 28 years shut down Salt Lake City's airport for much of the day, knocked out a coronavirus hotline and forced the evacuation of an oil refinery on Wednesday, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

The 5.7-magnitude, early morning tremor centered in north-central Utah was the strongest the state has experienced since 1992, when a 5.9-magnitude quake rattled the St. George area, according to Utah Emergency Management.

Wednesday's quake damaged the Angel Moroni statue atop Salt Lake Temple, the Mormon Church's largest, knocking a trumpet from the angel's hand. A church spokesman also said some of the temple's smaller spire stones were displaced, according to the Deseret News.

Utah has a large Mormon population and holds a special place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Governor Gary Herbert said the state's poison control center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City was evacuated while officials assessed the damage, and he said the coronavirus hotline was down.

"Please stay away from the downtown area while crews assess damage. Unless you work in public safety, or are an essential employee, remain at home or telework," the governor wrote on Twitter.

The Utah Department of Health said it set up a temporary hotline for information about the coronavirus.

The quake struck at 7:09 a.m. MDT (1309 GMT) some 3.7 miles (6 km) from Magna, Utah just west of Salt Lake City, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, and was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said earlier Wednesday it had evacuated the air traffic control tower at Salt Lake City International Airport and halted flights, diverting inbound aircraft to other airports. More than 200 flights were cancelled.

The airport said by Wednesday afternoon it had repaired a water line that had flooded a concourse and said "remaining facilities have been found to be structurally safe." It said cargo and general aviation flights were beginning to arrive and depart.

The FAA said it would conduct a thorough assessment of the air traffic control tower to determine if it is safe to resume use. Air traffic controllers are working with limited capability from an airport ramp tower, while a mobile tower is scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening.

Salt Lake City is the 23rd busiest U.S. airport and a hub for Delta Air Lines.

In Herriman, just south of Salt Lake City, bricks from the facade of an elementary school fell in front of the main entrance.

Cracks appeared in the brick facade of a Salt Lake City bank building, and rubble appeared on the sidewalk in front of an unoccupied building under construction, social media images showed.

Marathon Petroleum Corp said its 61,000 barrel-per-day Salt Lake City refinery in Utah was evacuated after the quake.

"All employees and contractors are accounted for, and the earthquake had no impact on operations," the company said. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta and David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)

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