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Believe it! There are many earthquake faults in Las Vegas

Reported by: Denise Rosch
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Updated: 10/06 4:13 pm

LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Earthquake faults are a part of Nevada's history, but many locals don't know much about this. They are a problem usually associated with California.

There are roughly 1,500 faults in the Silver State, making Nevada the third most seismically active region in the country.

The last major earthquake in Nevada happened in 1954, when a 7.0 hit in Churchhill County. The truth is there are fault lines all over the state.

"Other than the heat, I think Nevada is a prime place to live," said Las Vegas resident Mike Skundberg, who takes pride in where he lives. He spends a hot summer day sweeping up around his rented home on the top of a hill along Alta Drive. "It's actually pretty quiet," Skundberg said.

What Skundberg does not know is that there is a 13.5-mile fracture in the earth's crust running through his Las Vegas neighborhood. This is part of the Decatur fault.

"That escarpment is about 30-to-35 feet high,” said Dr. Craig DePolo a research geologist with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. “And we have a lot more to learn about these faults, so we've taken a guess how fast that fault moves. But I don't think it's a very good guess as we work on it. Our guess is about a foot every 10,000 years.”

Dr. Depolo is part of a team of scientists leading us on a rare tour of faults in the Las Vegas valley. His colleague, Dr. Jim Faulds, stumbled upon this find in 1998.

Road construction exposed what they call a superb section of the Frenchmen Mountain fault on the valley's east side. "The rocks on the lower side of the fault are 1.7 billion years old, and they match up with rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The rocks above the fault are much younger -- only tens of thousands of years old," said geologist Dr. Faulds.

One area fault zone is almost 15 miles long and responsible for forming the Frenchman and Sunrise Mountain ranges.

Drive a bit west and there is the Cashman Field Fault running directly under Bonanza Road near Bruce. Another fault is located at Commerce and Cheyenne. Both faults leave impressive scarps or drops.

"What we saw is the ground dropped two times about 15-thousand years ago, and ground dropped 7-10 feet each time. That's telling us those are pretty good sized earthquakes probably on the order of magnitude 6.7. to 6.8," said Dr. DePolo.

While it sounds ominous, scientists say there's no reason to worry. As a relatively new city, many of Las Vegas' buildings, particularly on The Strip, are built to withstand a significant amount of force. "A building will ride it out. We learned that in Northridge in many cases," said Ron Lynn, Director of Building and Fire Prevention for Clark County. "Wood frame buildings on a slab ride it out. Some damage to chimneys. But contents -- contents hurt people."

While scientists say more research is needed to understand the age and hazards associated with our faults, they do find examples of what developers are doing right.


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