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Magnitude 4.3 earthquake in Kentucky rumbles W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An Eastern Kentucky earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.3 was felt around the Kanawha Valley shortly after noon Saturday.

The earthquake, with an epicenter in Whitesburg, Ky. -- about 111 miles southwest of Charleston -- occurred at 12:08 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Hazards Program.

The quake, at a shallow depth of 0.7 mile, was in the Appalachian Mountains near the Virginia border. People in Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia also felt the quake.

A magnitude 2.5 aftershock struck the region at about 1:37 p.m., according to the USGS.

The National Weather Service in Charleston said no damage was reported, "athough, in Putnam County, there were reports of items shaken off shelves."

Emergency 911 dispatchers in Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Jackson and Wood counties reported that they received several calls. No injuries or damage was reported in any of those counties.

Boone County residents told dispatchers they felt their houses shake.

In Jackson County, residents reported feeling "a little tremor," a dispatcher said. People who live in Ravenswood and Evans definitely felt the tremor, she said.

People took to social media sites minutes after the earthquake to see if anyone else felt the ground move.

According to posts on The Charleston Gazette's public Facebook page, residents from around the region said they felt the quake.

"I thought it was mountaintop blasting at first until other people started posting about it. That was weird!" Tina Nelson posted.

Clendenin resident Jodie Burdette said, "Our windows rattled as the whole house shook."

Natalie Myers, who also lives in Clendenin, said it was a "very strong shake. It woke my husband from bed. My little girl said her mirror almost fell in her room."

Myers also said this quake was "much stronger," than the August 2011 Virginia earthquake that ran up and down the East Coast.

Last year's magnitude 5.8 earthquake, which centered in Louisa County, Va., was felt across more than a dozen states and in several Canadian provinces.

According to the California based catastrophe modeling and risk assessment firm EQECAT, the 2011 earthquake was felt by more people than any other quake in U.S. history. No deaths were reported, but minor damage to buildings was widespread, with one risk model estimating anywhere from $200 million to $300 million in damage along the East Coast.

John Bellini, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said the 2011 earthquake had 800 times the energy of Saturday's quake.

According to the USGS Earthquake Hazard Program, "most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains has infrequent earthquakes . . . the enormous region from the Rockies to the Atlantic can go years without an earthquake large enough to be felt."

Since 1973, there have been five earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or higher within 50 miles of Whitesburg, Ky. In 2006, there were two magnitude 4.3 earthquakes in the region, Bellini said Saturday.

Earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains are "typically felt over a much broader region. An earthquake can be felt over an area as much as 10 times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the West Coast," according to the USGS.

For example, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake in the Eastern United States can be felt as far away as 60 miles from where it occurred.

Saturday's earthquake in Eastern Kentucky was more than 100 miles from Charleston.

Earthquakes occur along fault lines within bedrock, usually miles deep, according to the USGS. Well-studied plate boundaries, such as the San Andreas Fault system in California, can help scientists determine the specific fault that is responsible for an earthquake, according to the USGS.

However, in the Eastern United States, "this is rarely the case. The region is laced with known faults but numerous smaller or deeply buried faults remain undetected," according to the USGS.

Bellini said the same size earthquake in California would not have been felt over as wide a region. "There are many more active faults, so the seismic waves would been absorbed by the crust quicker.

"If a 4.3 happened in California," Bellini said, "we probably wouldn't get any calls."

Although the Appalachian Mountains are hundreds of millions of years old, the pre-existing faults formed during the mountain-building process can occasionally have seismic release, which is what happened Saturday, Bellini said.

The first reported earthquake felt in West Virginia was on May 31, 1897, and centered in Giles County, Va., according to the USGS. Chimneys were reported damaged in Bluefield and, in Grafton, there were "windows broken and officials panic-stricken."

Staff Writer Susan Williams contributed to this report.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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