Rare Midwest earthquake rattles parts of Kentucky

For sleeping students, it was a piece of strange news to wake up to Friday. But for Lexington geologists, the early-morning earthquake was like a holiday that comes once every few decades.

“Central Kentucky isn’t ‘earthquake city,’ but it just shows you it could happen anywhere,” said James C. Cobb, director of the Kentucky Geological Survey.

On Friday at about 5:37 a.m., an earthquake shook southern Illinois along the New Madrid fault line. At 5.2 on the Richter scale, the U.S. Geological Survey considered the earthquake “moderate”.

People as far west as Kansas, as far north as the upper peninsula of Michigan and as far south as Georgia felt the earthquake, the USGS reported. No one was injured, and only minor structural damage was reported in West Salem, Ill., and Louisville.

The last time Lexington felt the rumblings of an earthquake was almost 20 years ago, and Cobb said he’s only felt three earthquakes in his 29 years at UK.

For the next six months to a year, Cobb and other geologists — including seismologists, who exclusively study earthquakes — will analyze Friday’s earthquake for factors such as the movement of the earth along the New Madrid fault line.

The likelihood that another earthquake will wake UK students up in the near future is small, Cobb said. However, if one does occur, no warning will be available. There is no way to predict when an earthquake comes, he said.

Because no warning accompanies earthquakes, officials couldn’t use UK Alert beforehand, said Christy Giles, director of the UK Office of Emergency Management. Officials would have used the system if the earthquake had caused damage, she said.

Cobb said he knew as soon as he felt the first rumble that Kentucky geologists were in for an exciting time.

“All of a sudden, bang! We see this big one,” he said. “It was a big shock — pardon the pun.”

UK’s Earthquake Safety Guide is available online at ehs.uky.edu/fire/earthquake.html.