Frank Lewis and Bob Strickley
PDT Staff Writers
People in the Portsmouth area may have been sitting down for lunch or flipping on college football when tremors from an earthquake near the Kentucky-Virginia border shook through the area Saturday.
“It was centered in Whitesburg, Kentucky,” Kim Carver, Executive Director of the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency said. “We really have no indication that there was any damage from that locally. It was pretty far down in Kentucky.”
According to the United States Geological Survey, a 4.3 magnitude earthquake originated in the far-eastern part of Kentucky 12:08 p.m. Saturday in Letcher County. According to the 2010 Census, Letcher County has a population of 24,519.
Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Center said seismometers helped determine the epicenter of Saturday’s quake.
“The epicenter was about 96 miles north-northeast of Knoxville, Tenn. or about three miles west-northwest of Blackey, Ky. which is the closest town,” Caruso said. “We had reports that it was felt through much of eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio, as far north as Columbus and as far south as Atlanta, Ga.”
Caruso said it is not uncommon for earthquakes in the eastern part of the United States to be felt widely.
A small rattling was felt in the Portsmouth Daily Times building and other parts of the city. Residents of Minford, New Boston, McDermott, Wheelersburg and Waverly reported feeling the tremors as well.
“As far as local impact, most everybody is chatting on the social networks that they felt the earthquake, but we’ve really had no reports of damage.”
Towns and cities near the epicenter included—in addition to Whitesburg and Blackey—Kingsport, Tenn. Bristol, Tenn. The epicenter was about 100 miles southwest of Charleston, W.Va..
The USGS has no reports of any damage or injuries from the earthquake, but Caruso said that is not surprising as the general threshold on the Richter Scale for damage and casualty-causing earthquakes comes at the measured 5.5 magnitude.
According to Caruso, the USGS knew of the earthquake almost immediately.
“We have seismometers all over the United States and when an earthquake happens the ground shakes, the seismometers detect the shaking and our computers are connected to those and we get the data almost instantaneously,” Caruso said. “So we knew about this earthquake within a few minutes of it happening and then it takes us a little while to work through the data and to get a solution as far as the depth, magnitude and location of the earthquake.”
All earthquakes originate from fault lines and finding the source will be the USGS’s next step.
“They will look at it and try to determine what fault it occurred on. I’m not sure of the name of this one yet,” Caruso said. “If it was in California we might know them right away because all the faults are extensively mapped, but here in eastern Kentucky we just don’t know yet.”
Most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains has infrequent earthquakes. Here and there earthquakes are more numerous, for example in the New Madrid seismic zone centered on southeastern Missouri, in the Charlevoix-Kamouraska seismic zone of eastern Quebec, in New England, in the New York - Philadelphia - Wilmington urban corridor, and elsewhere.
More information on earthquakes can be found at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes.