GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 18, 2012

Quake leaves lasting impression

Quake leaves no damage, but lasting impression on Cape Anners

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Some said it felt and sounded like a passing train or a nearby truck; one resident compared it to a herd of elephants.

In Gloucester and across Cape Ann, the local sensation of the 4.0 magnitude earthquake that shook New England from Maine to Connecticut Tuesday was the talk of the town, And while some residents confessed they didn’t feel or hear anything at all, many had a story to tell.

When the quake ended just after 7:10 p.m., Christine Pantano — Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s executive assistant — said her husband, Stephen, called from their second house in West Newfield, Maine — roughly 12 miles from Waterboro, Maine, the city closest to the epicenter.

She said he told her that an earthquake hit, but didn’t scratch the West Newfield house, aside from skewing everything hanging on the home walls.

“Nothing was damaged, except for the wall hangings being askew,” Pantano said.

The quake didn’t last long. Pantano, who lives in Beverly, said it ended quickly. At home, she said she thought that her heating system had malfunctioned, or National Grid crews on her street started digging again.

Residents here felt the quake around 7:13 p.m.

Mary Jane Febonio said she felt her house shake in Pigeon Cove. She said it felt like someone was bumping an unsteady table, but sounded like a truck rolling by. She said her husband heard a rumbling and also thought a tractor-trailer ran by the house.

Febonio, however, said she knew it was an earthquake; trucks don’t pass by that way.

“My husband said it was a truck, and I said look outside, there’s no one around as far as the eye can see,” Febonio said.

The quake touched off countless emergency alarms. In Manchester, a Summer Street resident called police and said the shaking felt like a house may have exploded. Police told the caller he was feeling the earthquake.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which initially pegged the quake at magnitude 4.6 Tuesday night, then revised it to a 4.0, issued a statement Wednesday noting that New England residents have felt small earthquakes and suffered damage from a few infrequent larger quakes. The Boston area was damaged three times in the middle of the 1700s; one of those struck the Cape Ann area.

New England’s largest quake was a 6.5 magnitude quake in Vermont or New Hampshire in 1638.

Gloucester’s last real damaging earthquake was a 6.0 magnitude quake in 1755. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake threw down stone fences, walls and chimneys. Some descriptions said the ground moved violently, like waves on the sea.

The USGS stated that an earthquake in the Northeast can be felt over an area roughly 10 times larger than a similar quake out west.

“A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt at many places as far as over 60 miles from where it occurred,” the U.S. Geological Survey’s release states.

It’s not uncommon for the New England area, including Cape Ann to have earthquakes, added Arthur Socolow, a geologist and a longtime former member of the Conservation Commission. What’s uncommon, he said, is feeling them.

“Ones large enough to be felt aren’t common,” Socolow said.

He said quakes, like the one Tuesday night, can travel hundreds of miles. Granite, he added, carries quake vibrations more readily than other materials, and granite dominates the terrain of Cape Ann and much of the wider region.

Gloucester City Councilor Joe Ciolino, who lives on High Popples Road, said he thought his oil burner had exploded Tuesday night. He said he and his wife were sitting at the dinner table when he felt the house shake.

“I’m one of the 10,000 people that went down to the basement to check if their furnace exploded,” said Ciolino.

When he was a kid, he recalled, the furnace in his home exploded and made the same kind of noise. When he first felt the tremors this time, he ran down to the basement. The quake left his house untouched, as it did with Cape Ann and Massachusetts at large.

Not all residents felt the earthquake.

Alex Frontiero, an employee at the Lone Gull, said he was in Jalapeno’s on Main Street when the quake hit and didn’t feel a thing. He said his brother felt it in his apartment on Prospect Street, less than a mile away.

The earthquake also got residents talking about earthquake insurance, said Steve Dexter, President of Carroll K. Steele Insurance of Gloucester. While Cape Ann isn’t anything like California in terms of earthquakes, Dexter said the area sits on a fault line, and earthquakes happen. Earthquake insurance, he said, doesn’t come standard with a homeowner’s insurance policy.

“You have to add it, generally,” he said.

He said Carroll Steele writes a fair amount of earthquake insurance policies.

“Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t,” Dexter said.

The quake, said Patricia Hodges, who was working the counter at the Pleastant Street Tea Company on Wednesday, made her home on Eastern Avenue shake Tuesday night.

She said she felt it when she was sitting on a couch upstairs around 7:10 p.m. and the earthquake sounded like something heavy coming up the spiral staircase in her home.

“It sounded like a herd of elephants charging up my stairs,” she said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.