By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Shortly after noon on Saturday, Nov. 10, the ground shook all over the Tri-County region.
A Corbin homeowner described the shaking and what first sounded “like a small animal in a dresser drawer of the master bedroom, or something rattling in the heat and air conditioning ducts.”
It lasted for about 15 seconds.
Other people in Corbin heard it as well, and within five minutes a local radio station confirmed “what we felt was an earthquake.”
As it turned out, the quake was felt across southeastern and eastern Kentucky as well. Reports of dishes and objects falling from shelves were the most common damage reported across the region.
According to the Associated Press, the building shook, the lights flickered off and on, and books fell off the shelves at the Blackey Public Library in Letcher County. In Hazard, some gas lines and water mains were broken as a result of the earthquake.
The quake occurred at 12:08 p.m., about eight miles west of Whitesburg, near the Letcher County community of Blackey. Its magnitude was 4.3 on the Richter Scale, and was centered 12.4 miles deep. At least one aftershock of 2.5 also occurred.
That tremor was also felt in parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.
There’s been a few earthquakes in the Tri-County, as well. On Jan. 27, 2009, a 3.1 quake was felt in Williamsburg, while in Knox County a 3.7 earthquake happened near Barbourville in 2004. That came some 28 years after a 3.8 quake first shook up the Barbourville area on Jan. 19, 1976.
Those were not the strongest earthquakes in the Bluegrass State — that one came in 1980 when a 5.2 quake struck near the Bath County community of Sharpsburg. That earthquake was felt over much of Kentucky, as well as parts of 15 states and the province of Ontario, Canada.
It did over $1 million in damage to downtown Maysville, broke and toppled chimneys, and damaged 37 commercial buildings and 269 homes in Mason County.
And in 1811-1812, a series of major quakes struck the New Madrid area along the Bootheel of Missouri, bordering the Mississippi River and the Kentucky border.
It’s the New Madrid Seismic Zone that worries emergency management officials in Kentucky the most. But Kentucky Emergency Management’s (KYEM) earthquake program director, David Davis, notes our state lies in and around several seismic zones.
“Everyone knows about the New Madrid Fault, but Kentucky’s also affected by the Wabash Seismic Zone in Illinois, which caused a quake in 2008 that did some damage in Louisville. There’s the Virginia Seismic Fault, where an earthquake in 2011 caused damage to Louisa and the central part of that state. That same quake also did some damage to the courthouse in Pikeville, here in Kentucky. And there’s a seismic fault in East Tennessee, and you folks know all about that one last November. The basic answer is in Kentucky, we could have an earthquake anytime, anywhere. That’s why our state needs to be prepared,” Davis said Tuesday in a phone interview from Frankfort.
That one fault in particular — the East Tennessee Seismic Zone, which includes Knoxville and Gatlinburg — was indeed the zone which brought on the November 10th quake that rattled the Tri-County region.
“We’ve got six named faults inside Kentucky. We’ve got 120 counties in Kentucky and I’ve probably counted 53 counties where they’ve had earthquake activity. You can have one, you can have another, and it only takes one to hurt people and property,” he added.
In his position Davis does a lot of public education events statewide, drawing attention to the dangers of earthquakes and how to be prepared.
One major event is the “Great Central U.S. ShakeOut,” which Kentucky and seven other states who belong to CUSEC (the Central United States Earthquake Consortium) participated in this past February.
Founded in 1983 and based in Memphis, Tennessee, CUSEC was set up with funding from FEMA. Their primary mission is to reduce deaths, injuries, property damage and economic losses from earthquakes in the Central United States. Along with Kentucky, the states of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana belong to CUSEC. Portions of six states in the organization — including Kentucky — would be affected if an earthquake would occur along the New Madrid Fault.
During this year’s ShakeOut, Davis said several schools in southeastern and eastern Kentucky have talked about last November’s earthquake.
“We had a poster contest for the ShakeOut, and one of the winners, the 5th grade winner, was from a school in Letcher County, where the November quake’s epicenter was located. A lot of school children were talking about it, as were the teachers and parents. November’s little quake absolutely did raise awareness in this part of Kentucky,” he stated.
And the ShakeOut will be held again this fall.
According to Davis and CUSEC’s webpage, the next “Great Central U.S. ShakeOut” will take place October 17 at 10:17 a.m. It’s being done to “maximize the effectiveness of the ShakeOut, which is why the CUSEC Board of Directors has elected to permanently move the Central U.S. ShakeOut to the third Thursday in October, beginning this year.” The move allows the consortium to align them with a national initiative involving 30 other states and territories where nearly 20 million people will practice earthquake safety and disaster preparedness activities.
“The ShakeOut has been a huge success in Kentucky. Almost 550,000 participated statewide in February. That’s one out of every eight people in Kentucky. And it’s been a big hit with the schools. The state legislature requires the schools to have two earthquake drills a year, so the school kids are familiar with ‘Drop, Cover and Hold On,’ the recommended action to take during an earthquake,” he explained.
Other actions can be taken when a quake hits the Tri-County region. Davis pointed out it comes down to two major things that can help a lot.
“First, know what to do during an earthquake. We practice to the school kids ‘Drop, Cover and Hold On.’ And second, you can make your home, business or workplace a little safer. Move or secure some pictures on the wall, secure bookcases, TVs, computers and anything else that could fall on people. It’s the little things that fall in an earthquake that really gets people hurt. Secure the stuff,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.