- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

WEST SALEM, Ill. (AP) — Bricks shook loose and fell from buildings. Walls cracked. Books tumbled off shelves.

A 5.2 magnitude earthquake centered near this southern Illinois town struck before dawn yesterday, rocking skyscrapers in Chicago, 230 miles north of here, but doing little damage and seriously hurting no one.

It was the kind of tremor that might be ignored in earthquake-savvy California, but the temblor shook things up from Nebraska to Atlanta and rattled nerves in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Louisville, Ky., where bricks toppled to the pavement.

“We thought it (the house) was falling on us, we really did,” said 85-year-old Anna Mae Williams, who was shaken awake at 4:37 a.m. in tiny West Salem, six miles from the epicenter.

Dozens of aftershocks followed, including one with a magnitude of 4.6.

The quake is believed to have involved an extension of the New Madrid fault, a network of deep cracks in the earth’s surface, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The fault is at the center of the nation’s most active seismic zone east of the Rockies, something that’s known to Midwest residents, even if they forget it now and then — the last severe earthquake in the region was a 5.0 magnitude quake in 2002.

Janet Clem of nearby Mount Carmel thought a nearby power plant had exploded, and was just as afraid when she realized that what she’d heard — “a heck of a rumble then a loud kaboom” — was in fact one of the most powerful earthquakes in Illinois history.

“I’m terrified, I’m not going to lie to you,” she said after the earthquake collapsed her porch. “I’ve never experienced anything like that and I don’t want to experience it again.”

The earthquake was the talk of towns throughout much of the Midwest.

“I just saw my house just shake. Golly,” said Mike Morrow of Mount Carmel, his eyes widening during an aftershock.

Mr. Morrow’s two-story apartment building was evacuated because of loose and falling bricks. The initial quake woke the 30-year-old and startled his pit bull.

“He was about as scared as I was,” Mr. Morrow said. “We both just froze.”

Though nowhere close to the power of the nation’s most famous quakes — including the devastating temblor that hit San Francisco exactly 102 years ago yesterday — it was enough to remind people of the risk that exists in the Midwest.

In 1811 and 1812, the New Madrid fault, centered on the eponymous Missouri town 140 miles southeast of St. Louis, produced a series of earthquakes estimated at magnitude 7.0 or greater said to be felt as far away as Boston.

Early homeowner damage claims received by State Farm, the largest provider of earthquake coverage in the area, were mostly for cracks in drywall and foundations, spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said.

Road crews in Kentucky and Indiana were out early yesterday inspecting bridges and overpasses, and work crews took a close look at skyscraper construction sites in Chicago.

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