Strong Earthquake Tremors Rattle Kentucky and Indiana

April 18, 2008

People throughout Kentuckiana, from an area as wide as Evansville, Indiana to Central Kentucky, were awakened at 5:36:57 a.m. this morning by strong earthquake tremors lasting 30 seconds or longer. Chicago skyscrapers shook and tall buildings in Indianapolis swayed, with the quake felt as far away as Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (350 miles from the southeastern Illinois epicenter), and Atlanta, Georgia. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the magnitude 5.4 earthquake was centered seven miles east of New Salem, IL, 66 miles from Evansville, IN. The earthquake, which was 10 miles below the Earth’s surface, rivalled the strongest on record in the area. Later in the morning, the quake was downgraded to a 5.2, still in the intermediate range for damage.

Earthquake in Southeastern Illinois Shakes Kentuckiana

No injuries were reported in the Kentuckiana earthquake, although there was structural damage in downtown Louisville at the Cosmopolitan building at 309 W. Kentucky St. between Second and Third Sts., where bricks tumbled off an upper story of a brick building, littering the sidewalk with rubble. Windows cracked at Fort Knox, and there was damage to several area homes. Portions of Southern Indiana, including Caesar’s casino, lost power. Students in high-rise dormitories were evacuated at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY. Windows at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN were also shattered.

New Madrid Earthquake of 1895 was Larger than 1994 Northridge, California Earthquake

The New Madrid fault lies in western Kentucky and a major earthquake has been predicted for years. The 1812 earthquake along the New Madrid fault was the largest in U.S. history; it caused the Mississippi River to temporarily run backwards, with major damage as far away as Lexington, Kentucky. The quake caused church bells to ring as far away as Charleston, SC. Everyone east of the Mississippi River except for New York and New England felt the temblor, which was stronger than the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, estimated to have been between 7.8 and 8.3 on the Richter scale. This is also the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake: One of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history, it caused 3,000 to 5,000 deaths, while 508 city blocks burned to the ground. The last large New Madrid Fault temblor was in 1895. It registered 6.8 on the Richter scale and was more intense than the memorable 1994 Northridge, California earthquake.

San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

According to the USGS, today’s quake was in what’s known as the Illinois basin-Ozark dome region which covers parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, stretching from Indianapolis and St. Louis to Memphis. There is speculation that strong earthquakes in the Pacific Rim which began on December 26, 2004 with a 9.0 earthquake near Sumatra, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in Thailand and other countries in an accompanying tsunami, have led to shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates now being felt elsewhere as earthquakes.

Louisville’s 911 service experienced a 20 percent increase in calls after this morning’s quake. At a 9:00 press conference, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abrams reminded the citizenry that 911 is not the place to call to ask: “Hey, what’s going on?”

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Photo credit: USGS

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