Archive for Saturday, May 15, 1999

RARE QUAKE SHAKES KANSAS CITY

May 15, 1999

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A Kansas University geology professor said it takes a reading of about 3.5 or higher for an earthquake to rattle dishes and even higher before there would be widespread damage to buildings.

A Thursday morning earthquake in Kansas City, Kan., wasn't strong enough to rattle a dish or window in Lawrence, but it created some aftershocks at Kansas University among seismologists and geologists.

Geoffrey Abers, a geology professor, set up a seismograph in a shed near Lindley Hall to record any aftershocks, and a few other professors drove to Kansas City, Kan., to see the damage.

The small but rare earthquake shook a 40-block area at 9:20 a.m., severely damaging a medical building with about 100 people inside. No injuries were reported.

The earthquake registered a magnitude of 3.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.

About 100 health-care workers and patients were evacuated from the Indian Springs Medical Building, said Don Denney, spokesman for the Unified Government.

Denney said cracks were "spread out all over" the two-story building and that a front canopy over an entrance had bowed. A parking lot also was damaged near the building, where the pavement buckled and dropped off about 8 feet.

The building will remain closed at least until Monday while city engineers assess the damage, Denney said.

"You just don't hear of earthquakes in Kansas," Denney said. "The cracking is still spreading, and we can't even get in the building to do an investigation until that stops."

About 40 blocks away, a handful of hairline cracks appeared in a stairwell wall at the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities, said BPU spokeswoman Karen Ford.

Ford said the three-story building, which was built in 1940, was otherwise fine.

"You can frighten me pretty easily, and this doesn't scare me," Ford said.

Don Steeples, a seismologist and KU geology professor, said it takes a reading of about 3.5 or higher for an earthquake to rattle dishes and even higher before there would be widespread damage to buildings.

Steeples said tremors have been felt in that area before, but the epicenters are usually hundreds of miles away.

In Lawrence, for example, buildings shook on April 9, 1952, because of an earthquake in El Reno, Okla. On Nov. 9, 1968, an Albion, Ill., earthquake shook a seismograph needle off its recording paper at KU. In February 1979, the Kansas Geological Survey at KU recorded eight earthquakes, which were all less than 1.5 on the Richter scale in northeast Kansas.

John Minsch, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said he knew of just one other instance of an earthquake registering in the Kansas City area. That quake registered 3.8 in 1931.

KU doesn't maintain a seismograph on campus, mainly due to the $2 to $3 daily expense, Steeples said. The funding for a seismograph on land owned by the university north of Lawrence Municipal Airport expired in 1989.

The equipment Abers set up Thursday is used for research purposes, and has taken recordings near Manhattan, Clay Center and other areas.

"You can practically throw one out in the street and have it running in a matter of seconds, if you're not particularly concerned with its accuracy," Steeples said.

A few minor aftershocks were also recorded Thursday, and Steeples said it's unlikely any other activity will come from the epicenter.

"I think the likelihood of a larger earthquake happening is very small," he said.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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