By Arthur E. Foulkes and Howard Greninger
TERRE HAUTE — As Steve McConnell prepared to record a song for an Internet karaoke Web site early Friday morning, his computer console began to sway. Then he heard a cracking noise in his basement.
“I didn’t know if I had vertigo or what. The computer console was swaying. I was getting ready to sing the song ‘Bad to the Bone,’ when everything just shook. I know I’m not that ‘bad’ to make that happen,” McConnell, 29, joked.
Pieces of the brick walls in the basement of McConnell’s home on South 10th 1/2 Street near Sarah Scott Middle School broke off during Friday morning’s earthquake, which registered 5.2 on the Richter scale. Brick dust covered the top of his guitar amplifier. “There was like brick dust everywhere,” he said.
The moderate earthquake, which shook much of the Wabash Valley awake at 5:36 a.m., was followed by an after shock registering 4.5 on the Richter scale at 11:14 a.m. Both were centered near Mount Carmel, Ill., about 40 miles northwest of Evansville.
No injuries or serious damage has been reported from Friday’s quake in the Terre Haute area. This was the strongest earthquake to hit southern Illinois since one measuring 5.4 struck the area in 1968, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Friday’s quake “was quite moderate,” said professor Prodip Dutta, a geologist at Indiana State University. A quake measuring 6 or greater is considered strong and can do significant damage, he said.
Despite being a moderate quake, Friday’s quake could be felt as far west as Kansas, as far north as Upper Michigan and as far south as Georgia, according to the Geological Survey.
The quake swayed skyscrapers in downtown Indianapolis and could be felt in downtown Chicago. In Mount Carmel, a woman was trapped in her home after her porch collapsed, media reports said Friday.
The quake occurred in the Wabash Valley seismic zone. A quake centered in the same general area measured 5.0 on the Richter scale in 2002. Another quake was centered in the same area around 1986, Dutta said.
The USGS measured a series of after shocks from Friday’s earthquake – most measuring around 2.5 on the Richter scale and centered around Mount Carmel, Noble, Bellmont or West Salem in Illinois, the Geological Survey reported.
By shortly after noon Friday, the Indiana Department of Transportation had inspected bridges in the state’s Vincennes region, which was nearest the epicenter of Friday’s quake, said Cher Goodwin, an INDOT spokeswoman. The inspection, which included more than 800 bridges and drainage structures, uncovered no significant damage, and no roadways were closed, she said.
INDOT inspected bridges and other roadway structures all around the state Friday morning, said Andy Dietrick, an INDOT spokesman in Indianapolis. No bridges or roadways were closed anywhere in the state, he said.
“This is a good reminder that people in the area need to have an emergency plan,” said J.D. Kesler, deputy director of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency. “Bad things can happen, but you need to know what to do,” he said.
The first thing Patrick Ralston did after Friday morning’s quake was run to his basement to check for a gas leak, he said. Ralston, now with First Financial Bank, is a former chairman of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium, a multi-state organization dedicated to improving earthquake education and safety.
Earthquakes in Pakistan and Iran often kill a lot of people because their buildings are not able to withstand tremors, Ralston said. “Building codes are a key component.” Indiana’s building codes have been greatly improved over the years, he said.
If you smell gas after an earthquake or other natural event, the EMA’s Kesler said, do not try to shut off the gas. Instead, get clear of the area and notify the proper authorities, he said.
The Wabash Valley seismic zone is adjacent to the larger New Madrid seismic zone. During the winter of 1811 and 1812, the New Madrid seismic zone generated a series of quakes that were the strongest recorded in the lower 48 states. Those quakes devastated the region and were felt all across the nation, the USGS reports. Those quakes rang bells in Boston, Ralston said.
“Of much greater concern [than Friday’s earthquake] is the potential for the adjacent New Madrid seismic zone to generate severe earthquakes,” the USGS reported.
“Thank God there was no one injured and no major damage,” Ralston said, adding this quake “may be a precursor for something later.”
The Indiana Department of Insurance calls the earthquake an excellent reminder for Hoosiers to ask their insurance agents about earthquake insurance. Having homeowners or renters insurance does not guarantee that you also have earthquake insurance, the agency notes.
“The bottom line is that all Hoosiers are at risk of experiencing serious financial loss due to an earthquake,” said James Atterholt, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Insurance in a media statement issued Friday.
ISU’s Dutta said a strong earthquake can generate aftershocks for days; however, he did not expect more activity from Friday’s quake. Still, he said, you can never know for sure.
“We can never predict earthquakes,” Dutta said. Earthquakes occur when rocks deep underground shatter and a tremendous amount of energy is released. “This cannot be predicted,” he said.
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or email@example.com.