'Rocking, rolling' during Oklahoma earthquakes

'Rocking, rolling' during Oklahoma earthquakes

November 8th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Chad Devereaux works to clear up bricks that fell from three sides of his in-laws' home in Sparks, Okla., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. The weekend earthquakes were among the strongest yet in a state that has seen a dramatic, unexplained increase in seismic activity. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma shook the state late Saturday, causing only a couple of minor injuries and relatively little property damage. Even so, the 5.6 magnitude quake -- felt as far away as South Carolina and Wisconsin -- left many residents with a bad case of nerves, especially since aftershocks continue to rattle the state.

The shaking is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Seismologists say the aftershocks typically continue for weeks or even months, though their intensity generally diminishes in time. That's little comfort to state residents who are far more accustomed to dealing with tornadoes than earthquakes.

Take the reaction of Joey Wakefield, emergency management for a rural county where there was some property damage. "We're in tornado country, man" he told a reporter for Reuters, the news service. "These earthquakes, it just scares the hell out of everybody here."

And no wonder. Quakes are quite rare in Oklahoma, though geological activity in the area, scientists say, has increased in recent years. The U.S. Geological Survey said on its website that the agency was still trying to determine with certainty on which fault line the quake occurred. They'll have a better understanding of what natural forces are at work when that determination is made.

The USGS reported that the epicenter of the Saturday quake was about 44 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, that it was about 3 miles deep, and that the big event followed several preshocks earlier in the day. The record-setting quake Saturday certainly got residents' attention. "Wham! It wasn't just a sudden bang," Joe Reneau, whose home was damaged when the chimney of his home crashed through their roof during the quake. "The house was rocking and rolling."

People weren't the only ones rattled by the quake. Birds and other flying critters in the quake region were so disturbed that they took to the air in numbers so massive that their flight showed clearly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's regional weather radar. Before and after-quake images of the radar screens quickly became an Internet sensation.

Fortunately, injuries were minimal; no one required hospitalization. Infrastructure damage was minimal. A small section of a state highway buckled, but was quickly repaired. Property damage was limited to a handful of homes and businesses. The state's oil refineries and pipelines were unaffected by the quake -- surely a relief to local, state and federal to emergency response officials.

The quake and its aftershocks are a reminder that devastating forces of nature come in many forms. If tornado-conscious Oklahomans had forgotten that, then Saturday's "rocking and rolling" is a reminder that they do so at their peril.