5.1 magnitude earthquake rattles Northeast, tremors felt from Maine to Maryland

Sunday, April 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AU SABLE FORKS, N.Y. (AP) _ An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 shook the Northeast awake early Saturday, collapsing roads in New York and rattling homes from Maine to Maryland. No injuries were immediately reported.

The quake, centered 15 miles southwest of Plattsburgh, N.Y., left cracks in foundations and chimneys throughout the region, said Ray Thatcher, director of emergency services for Essex County.

``It was shaking pretty good,'' said Jimmy Mussaw, who said he was standing in a Plattsburgh supermarket just before 7 a.m. when the walls and beams begin to shake. ``Everybody was running from the back of the store to the front.''

Gov. George Pataki declared states of emergency in Essex and Clinton counties in northeastern New York. State inspectors were sent to the Adirondack region to examine roads and bridges for structural damage. The state Department of Environmental Conservation inspected all the dams in the area and found no damage.

State troopers also were sent to provide help to local law enforcement officers. No restrictions were placed on travel, but police were urging drivers to use caution.

In the nearby hamlet of Jay, some 3,000 residents had their power restored Saturday evening after the earthquake caused an explosion that disrupted a New York State Electric & Gas substation, sending sparks into the sky and cutting power earlier in the day, Essex County Deputy Sheriff Paul Benway said.

William Ott, a seismologist at Weston Observatory at Boston College, said the quake had a magnitude of 5.1, and at least two aftershocks were reported.

He called the earthquake ``moderate.'' A typical magnitude 5.1 earthquake would cause cracked plaster, broken windows and minor structural damage around the epicenter, he said.

The quake broke off a 100-foot section from one road in Ausable, said David Fessette, highway construction supervisor for Clinton County. A crew was filling the area in with limestone Saturday afternoon. Parts of at least two other roads collapsed, and there were several water main breaks in the area.

Final damage and cost assessments remained unknown Saturday night, Benway said.

At Adirondack Mountain Spirits in Ausable, the earthquake rattled liquor bottles off the shelves.

``It was just a mess,'' said owner Dayle Richards. ``Even if they didn't break, they were covered with other debris.''

The largest earthquake recorded in New York, according to the USGS, was a 5.8 magnitude quake in 1944 that was centered in Massena, about 3 miles from the Canadian border.

Won Young Kim, a seismologist with the Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, said a magnitude 3.5 quake occurred in the same area on the same day, April 20, two years ago.

``Northern New York is an active area, but most of the earthquakes that occur in the area are smaller,'' said Frank Revetta, a professor of geology at State University of New York at Potsdam. ``Normally you'd got one this big just every 100 years or so.

``During the last two or three years, there haven't been many at all, and I wondered if that meant anything. This might prove the strained energy had not been released, and now it has been.''

By several accounts, the shaking lasted about 30 seconds.

Amanda Slattery, of Yorktown Heights just north of New York City, said she was in bed when the temblor struck.

``I could hear the frame of the house shaking,'' Slattery said. ``I lay there long enough to realize it was an earthquake. ... I was relieved when it stop.''

Tremors also were felt in Canada, as far east as Boston and Portland, Maine, and as far south as Baltimore.

Carol McDonald of Downingtown, Pa., about 40 northwest of Philadelphia, said she woke up to find the windows of her home rattling. She and her husband grabbed their baby and waited out the tremors.

``I'm from California and (said), 'This feels like an earthquake.' I didn't think we got those out here,'' she said.