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Jolted awake: Magna declares emergency in wake of earthquake

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Updated - Mar. 18, 2020 at 7:38 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 18, 2020 at 1:47 p.m.



MAGNA — To Sebastian Randazzo, the global coronavirus pandemic was bad enough for his Italian restaurant in Magna.

Then the earthquake hit.

Randazzo had already shuttered Nonna’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria when he woke up Wednesday morning to the largest temblor Utah has seen in 28 years, which later led his town of Magna to issue an emergency declaration.

It’s a double hit he’s worried his business won’t survive.

“When I got the phone call this morning, I literally felt like I had been kicked in the face,” he said. “It’s bad enough we had to close because of the coronavirus. And now we’ll probably close because we don’t have a building.”

The 5.7 magnitude earthquake sent shockwaves throughout the Wasatch Front, but for Magna, located near the epicenter, residents and businesses have seen some of the worst damage.

Residents of the town on the west edge of Salt Lake County woke up to the most intense rattling — many residents reporting household pictures and other items falling off walls and shelves — and widespread damage on Main Street, with some older buildings damaged and homes evacuated.

Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County also issued emergency declarations to access funding to repair infrastructure and buildings that were damaged, even outside the quake’s epicenter.

Nearly 50 homes in a mobile home trailer park in West Valley City, near 7200 West and 2100 South, were also damaged by the quake — some rocked off their foundation — leaving dozens of residents displaced. Homes closed off by officials were marked with pink signs reading “UNSAFE” and “Do not enter or occupy.”

“I thought I was going to die,” said Hayden Magnum, a resident in one of those mobile homes. “It was shaking that bad. It was scary.”

For Liliana Morales, a single mother who works hard to feed her three children, it’s a disaster she’s worried she can’t afford. Food that she had stocked in her cupboards and fridge for the COVID-19 pandemic crashed to the floor, some cans splitting open. Spaghetti sauce splattered all over her kitchen.

“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” she said, choking back tears. “I work two jobs to provide for my kids. And then when I have a little extra money I try to buy food for them, so it’s not easy.”

Shauna Mangum, Hayden Magnum’s mother, said when the earthquake hit, it was complete chaos inside their home.

“It was so loud,” she said. “I was screaming. My husband was holding me.”

Magnum’s home was littered with debris and random household items that had been tossed from walls and shelves. He showed where a beam had burst through the wood floor after their home was knocked off its foundation. Their house no longer safe to live in, Magnum said he and his family will likely go to Taylorsville High School, 5225 S. Redwood Road, where the Red Cross has set up resources for people to find help and housing.

“We’ll be safe and everything will be OK,” he said.

As officials worked throughout the day to assess the extent of the damage, they reported no injuries or deaths from the quake, and were relieved, considering the damage could have been much worse.

Though it’s not clear how long homeowners will be displaced — since building inspectors will continue evaluating structures following any more aftershocks — they urged residents to be patient.

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“Hopefully, as we know more about what was affected and, more importantly, what wasn’t affected, all will be well and folks can get back into their houses and feel comfortable,” said Greg Schulz, Magna municipal administrator.

Schulz still had a sense of humor when he spoke to the Deseret News on Wednesday morning, even though he had already been run ragged by the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic hitting home days prior.

“I have a standing order if we have another Horseman of the Apocalypse ride over the hill, I’m shooting him,” he said, laughing.

But in all seriousness, Schulz said “everybody should be happy the damage in Magna seems to be limited” to Main Street.

Older buildings, including the historic Panama Building, a building attached to the Empress Theatre and Colosimo’s sausage factory, are damaged, among other buildings, Schulz said, noting bricks and siding had fallen onto sidewalks.

He said some apartment buildings nearby had been evacuated as inspectors checked for safety concerns. He anticipated about 30 to 40 people had been displaced — though officials at a press conference later Wednesday afternoon estimated perhaps up to 100 people have been affected.


It’s bad enough we had to close because of the coronavirus. And now we’ll probably close because we don’t have a building.

–Sebastian Randazzo, Nonna’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria


Officials including Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Magna Mayor Pro-Tem Trish Hull told reporters in a news conference Wednesday afternoon that Magna and surrounding areas are “stable” as crews work to assess the full extent of damage.

That’s even after a 4.6 magnitude aftershock again reverberated through Magna and across the Salt Lake Valley a little after 1 p.m.

Hull said building inspectors will continue their work after each aftershock to ensure there is no further risk to the public. So far, crews have found only “minor” interior damage and some external damage on older buildings. She also wasn’t sure how long those aftershocks and inspections will last, leaving it uncertain how long some residents will be displaced. However, she said most displaced residents have already relocated with friends or family.

Hull said she’s been “impressed” with the coordinated Salt Lake County response and the Magna community’s willingness to help their neighbors.

“I can’t tell you how many people I talked to who said, ‘I’ve already checked with everybody on my street, we’re all OK,” Hull said. “That’s Magna, and that’s how we roll. I’m so proud of them.”

No injuries have been reported, Schulz said. Still, Magna residents were left rattled, which he said was understandable considering the intensity of the quake.

“How do you calm scared?” Schultz said. “It’s completely natural and understandable to be scared in these situations. ... In this case, you know, it’s going to be some time before the aftershocks and such subside. But understand that our community has the ability to rebuild, has a history of coming together in these situations to take care of one another, to fix what’s broken, to make things work even under the most trying of times.”

Schulz urged residents to check on their neighbors to see if they need help — but to also be cautious and not forget social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Hopefully it doesn’t create a catalyst for more spread of the disease,” he said. “Check with your neighbors, but be real smart about it so you’re not putting yourself at risk and others at risk.”

Schulz said he was at home with his wife when the earthquake hit — and he said he was literally “pulled” out of his chair by the first shake.

“It was a huge jolt,” he said, telling of how his wife, who was working in their at-home office, held onto her computer screens to keep them from falling over.

Magna Mayor Dan Peay was on his way home from a vacation in Arizona when reached by the Deseret News Wednesday morning. He said he had cut his vacation short and was “headed home as quick as I can.”

“I’m definitely concerned,” he said, crediting Schulz for taking care of immediate needs while he drove home.

The mayor noted his son had already been by to check inside his home, where pictures and other items had been knocked off the walls.

“I’m concerned to see that,” he said. “But the main thing we’re concerned about is nobody has been hurt, so we’ve got some pretty good luck that way.”

He urged Magna residents to hold tight.

“Just hold together,” he said. “Things will definitely get better.”

With the emergency declared, the township will have access to emergency state and federal funds for disaster relief.

“For the local businesses, I will expect an economic impact,” Schulz said. “As a municipality with a budget of only $7 million, we need every penny we can get just for dealing with the basic service needs. Obviously this is above and beyond.”

Schulz credited the Salt Lake County Emergency Operations team for responding in a rapid fashion.

“It’s been very much appreciated,” he said, laughing, “coming from the guy who had to pry his garage door open today.”

Editor's Note: Donations for those in need can be made to the American Red Cross in Utah. Liliana Morales's Venmo account can be found at Liliana-Morales-17.*

*Disclaimer: KSL.com has not verified the accuracy of the information provided with respect to the account nor does KSL.com assure that the monies deposited will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit or donation you should consult your own advisers and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

Contributing: Mike Headrick, Dan Rascon

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