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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Area residents report jolt; no local injuries, damage reported

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An earthquake centered near West Salem, Ill., caused minor damage yesterday, but nobody was seriously hurt.

Several Toledo-area residents said they felt the 5.2 magnitude earthquake, although they weren't quite sure what they were experiencing at the time because quakes that intense are such a rare Midwestern occurrence.

Most people were in bed when the earthquake occurred at 5:37 a.m. Dozens of aftershocks followed, including one with a magnitude of 4.6.

Some reported being awakened by it, then falling back to sleep.

For three nurses working the night shift at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center - Allisan Wisniewski, Amber Thomas, and Amy Stewart - that wasn't an option.

"We all kind of felt the building shaking a little bit," Ms. Wisniewski said. She said Ms. Thomas saw an open door swaying back and forth.

Was there a vibration? A rattle?

Ms. Wisniewski said something definitely felt out of kilter for about 30 seconds. But she said it was a swaying motion, kind of like how your head bobs when you're nodding off.

"Everybody just wondered what it was," she said.

There was no panic. "Most of the patients slept right through it," she said.

The quake's epicenter was six miles from West Salem, and 45 miles from Evansville, Ind.

Even as far away as Chicago's Loop district, skyscrapers rattled.

Robert K. Vincent, a Bowling Green State University geology professor and co-founder of OhioView, a remote sensing consortium of Ohio's 10 largest public research universities, said it was "a goodly sized quake for the Midwest."

"I probably woke up because of it," Mr. Vincent said, noting the time on his clock. "A lot of people told me their dogs woke them up."

Ohio actually records at least one detectable earthquake a year. But the tremors are so insignificant people rarely notice, he said.

Yesterday's was the first earthquake believed to have shaken Bowling Green's ground since a Nov. 10, 1993, earthquake near Painesville, east of Cleveland. That one was registered as a 3.5 magnitude, Mr. Vincent said.

"The message here is that Ohio can get damage from quakes that are in the center of the country," he said.

But he also said Ohio, relative to other parts of the country, is "one of the safest places for seismic events."

Don Stierman, associate professor of geophysics in the University of Toledo's environmental sciences department, said yesterday's quake was probably similar to those that struck the Shelby County village of Anna, Ohio, in the 1930s.

Records show Anna, south of Lima, experienced earthquakes with a magnitude of 4 or higher in 1930, 1931, and 1937, as well as in 1986.

Mr. Stierman noted that yesterday, coincidentally, was the 102nd anniversary of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, one of the largest seismic events in the nation's history. Ground shook from Oregon to Los Angeles to Nevada, killing more than 1,000 people.

He said the cause of earthquakes remains a mystery.

"They're loaded like a bent spring. We still don't understand the physics of how fast these springs load and why they went today instead of yesterday or tomorrow," Mr. Stierman said.

A 5.2-magnitude tremor might be ignored in earthquake-savvy California, but the temblor shook things up from Nebraska to Atlanta and rattled nerves in Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Louisville, where bricks toppled to the pavement.

In Chicago, officials were checking structures to ensure there was no damage.

The quake also shook skyscrapers in downtown Indianapolis, about 160 miles northeast of the epicenter.

In West Salem itself, a chimney on one house fell and there were reports of cracks in walls.

"We're very thankful we had no one injured," said Harvey Fenton, the town's police and fire chief.

"We thought it [the house] was falling on us, we really did," said 85-year-old Anna Mae Williams, who was shaken awake at 4:37 a.m. in tiny West Salem, six miles from the epicenter.

Fifteen miles to the southeast, in Mount Carmel, a woman was trapped in her home by a collapsed porch but was quickly freed and wasn't hurt, police said. A century-old apartment building there, a former schoolhouse, was evacuated because of loose and falling bricks.

Dozens of aftershocks followed, including one with a magnitude of 4.6.

Early homeowner damage claims received by State Farm, the largest provider of earthquake coverage in the area, were mostly for cracks in drywall and foundations, spokesman Missy Lundberg said.

The strongest earthquake on record with an epicenter in Illinois occurred in 1968, when a 5.3-magnitude temblor was recorded about 75 miles southeast of St. Louis, according the USGS. The damage was minor but widespread and there were no serious injuries.

The Blade's news services contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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