East Coast earthquake felt in Kentucky

expert: bad weather is bigger worry

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2011 

  • Did you feel it?

    If you felt shaking in your area or evacuated your home or office, you should check for stress cracks upon returning. If you are unsure, you might need to have an engineer check the structure.

    Check Kyem.ky.gov for tips on earthquake preparedness.

    Source: Division of Emergency Management

Kentuckians should not be excessively concerned about two earthquakes Tuesday on opposite ends of the country — Colorado and Virginia — triggering a similar temblor here, one of the state's leading earthquake experts said Tuesday.

"Natural hazards in Kentucky tend more to tornadoes and ice storms," said Zhenming Wang, head of the geological hazards section for the Kentucky Geologic Survey. "In the last couple hundred years, weather has caused one after another catastrophe."

Tuesday's earthquake, which reportedly had a preliminary magnitude of 5.8, was centered in Northern Virginia, but it was felt in Boston, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and as far north as Toronto.

The earthquake was felt as far west as Paintsville, Pikeville and Frankfort, Wang said.

"Even though I'm sure there's some damage, I don't think it's so dramatic to where buildings will collapse and kill people," Wang said.

For people concerned about the New Madrid fault, he said the next large earthquake in Kentucky might be someplace else in the state, because of unseen pressure mounting on underground plates.

Earthquakes might be over in a matter of seconds, Wang said, but the energy necessary to generate them can take years to build.

"In Kentucky, in terms of earthquakes, I feel it's safe," he said.

There was some damage and plenty of evacuations, mostly in Eastern Kentucky, but no reports of injuries as of Tuesday afternoon.

Buddy Rogers, a spokesman for the state's Division of Emergency Management in Frankfort, said the state office received reports of minor damage to buildings in Pike County.

Doug Tackett, emergency manager for Pike County, said the quake caused some minor cracks in buildings in Pikeville — a crack in a stairway at the courthouse, for instance, and cracks in the sidewalk and a stairway at the Hall of Justice, where district and circuit courts are housed.

Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford has asked an engineering firm to inspect the damage.

"It felt like Pikeville was the epicenter," Rutherford said Tuesday afternoon.

P. Kevin Hackworth, an attorney who works in an office in the US Bank building in downtown Pikeville, said people were evacuated from several buildings in downtown Pikeville. He estimated that 200 people came out onto Main Street.

The shaking was a strange sensation, he said.

"It built and built and built and finally got to that crescendo where the whole building was shaking," Hackworth said. "You could see everyone just start leaving their buildings."

K.C. Fitch, deputy director of emergency management in Martin County, said residents there "definitely felt it."

Fitch said occupants of a building near the courthouse were evacuated, but there has been only one report of minor damage: at a restaurant, where some ceiling tiles fell out. He estimated that the shaking lasted about a minute.

"We rocked pretty good," he said.

That shaking also was felt in Lee County.

"A bunch of us were sitting around a table talking," said Edmund Shelby, editor of the Beattyville Enterprise newspaper. "All of a sudden the table started shaking. And we said, 'We're having an earthquake.'

"We could feel it in our bodies. It was strange."

Herald-Leader reporter Cheryl Truman and The Kentucky News Content Service contributed to this story.

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