Thousands of people reported feeling the overnight temblor
By Tracie Strahan and Kiki Intarasuwan • Published September 9, 2020 • Updated on September 10, 2020 at 12:02 am
The United States Geological Survey says a small earthquake was detected in New Jersey early Wednesday morning.
A magnitude 3.1 earthquake’s epicenter was near southeast of East Freehold, New Jersey, according to USGS. Public reports suggested the quake was felt as far away as Philadelphia and Long Island.
“I live in Freehold and I thought something hit the house,” Theresa McAllister said. Most in the area who felt the tremor were not aware what it actually was until later.
“It woke me up like a freight train coming down the tracks, it sounded like a sonic boom,” said Mike Page.
USGS geophysicist Robert Sanders told NBC News that an earthquake in the region is “relatively uncommon.” There are two previous recorded quakes with a magnitude 3.0 and larger within a 10-mile radius of the one in Freehold: A 3.1 earthquake in 1992 and a 3.5 earthquake in 1979.
“It will take a few days or weeks before analysts can see if there’s a specific fault line at cause here,” Sanders said. He added that structural damage is possible but unlikely. Damages are more likely to be things falling off shelves.
In the general New York area, it’s slightly more common. Seismologists said that an earthquake similar in size can be expected about once a year in the region.
“There is a consistent pattern in the eastern United States that the earthquakes are responding to a squeezing force in the northeast to southwest direction,” said John Armbruster of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. “There isn’t one big fault line, the rocks around the New York City area are hundreds of millions of years old, they’ve had a rough life.”
A spokesperson for the Monmouth County Sherrif’s Office tells News 4 that there were at least 125 calls in a half-hour span into the 911 call center; no damage was reported. The office also released video from an outside camera that shook for less than a second.
The USGS says more than 5,500 people have submitted “Felt It” reports online.
The Freehold Police Department said dispatch fielded dozens of calls and that the epicenter of the earthquake was 500 feet away from the police station. A spokesperson for the department said the quake felt more like “the floor dropped out” rather than a wavy motion.
Unlike earthquakes on the West Coast, the ones that occur on the West Coast are more widely felt, according to USGS. Scientists are researching the reasons but some of the factors have to do with the nature of tectonic plates and the size and age of buildings here.
New Jersey’s own Department of Environmental Protection says the state is probably overdue for a more significant earthquake, like the magnitude 5.5 temblor that struck in 1884 that caused damage on Staten Island. Such a quake, were it to strike today, would result in “severe damage” and would “likely” cause fatalities, the state says.
“Earthquakes are very infrequent, but if a large one happens it would be much more devastating in the East than something out West,” said Thomas Pratt, of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. “The reason is everything out West is built to withstand earthquakes. Most buildings in the East are not.”