Monday, September 11, 2006

Earthquake in the Gulf

Haven't seen this reported too many places, but it certainly begs the question of what a more powerful tsunami might do to the region. And what aftershocks might we see?

Central Floridians have a new natural disaster to contend with: earthquakes.

A strong and unusual earthquake Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico sent ripples through Central Florida. It was felt south in Miami and north as far as coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and northern Georgia.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity, recorded the earthquake at 10:56 a.m., about 260 miles southwest of Tampa. It reached magnitude 6, the strongest and most widely felt of only about a dozen temblors that have been recorded in the Gulf in 30 years.

No injuries or property damage had been reported, and the operations of Central Florida theme parks, ports and airports were not disrupted by the sudden shocks. No resulting tsunami was reported in the Gulf, and none was expected, the National Weather Service said.

But many residents experienced chandeliers swinging and walls shaking. They filed thousands of incident reports at the USGS Web site.

"I had never heard of an earthquake in Florida," Eleanor Loke, a retiree from New Jersey who has lived in Clermont 10 years, said Sunday afternoon.

Loke was at home with her husband, Bill, when he alerted her to an unusual shaking around him.

"He got really worried thinking that it was his pacemaker [causing the shaking]," Eleanor Loke said. "But then we realized the lamp was shaking, too, and we knew it had to be something else."

Scientists had a better explanation.

"Earthquakes are very unusual for the Gulf," said Don Blakeman, a seismologist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., which is part of the USGS. "One of this magnitude is even more uncommon."

Before Sunday's earthquake, the most recent temblor in the Gulf was Feb. 10 and was a magnitude 5.2, USGS data show.

That another one followed seven months later puzzled scientists even more. "It's just usually not an active area," Blakeman said.

There are occasional earthquakes off Florida's coast, but rarely are they felt on shore. Strong quakes were felt in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach in 1879 and in northwest Florida in 1780.

Some of Central Florida's worried residents called 911 on Sunday, police agencies across the region confirmed.

"People called to say they had felt a tremor," said Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. She didn't have a specific number of callers.

Ann Harvey, 82, of Sanford was home alone when she felt the earthquake and called 911.

"I wasn't sure what was going on," Harvey said. "I wondered if it was a sinkhole opening up, so I called wondering if I'd be needing help."

Others called their loved ones in panic.

Carolyn Beno was working on the top floor of a six-story building near Mall at Millenia when "it almost felt like the building swayed." Thinking a building nearby had collapsed, she called her boyfriend, scared.

"He said, I was just imagining things and I must have been tired," she said. "He said to not worry, I must have gotten dizzy or something, to go eat."

She didn't find out there had been an earthquake until hours later, when a co-worker came in to begin her shift.

Meanwhile, meteorologists with the National Weather Service were keeping a watchful eye on the Gulf, looking for any abnormality.

"Our primary concern is the development of a tsunami," said Scott Kelly, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Melbourne. "Fortunately, there hasn't been any indication of that."

Kelly explained that for a tsunami, or fast-moving tidal wave, to develop, the seismic activity usually has to reach magnitude 6.5 or higher. It is possible, however, for such waves to develop at lower magnitudes. Aftershocks, he said, also are a concern.

William Beem, a Sanford resident, said he hopes earthquakes continue to be a fluke and not the norm in the Sunshine State. He was working at his home office when he felt the tremors.

"It dawned on me, the ground's shaking," he said. At first he thought it was an airplane flying too low.

"We get hurricanes and tourists," he said. "I don't want earthquakes to add to the list."

Posted by crimnos @ 10:18 AM