DETROIT — The most severe earthquake to hit the Great Lakes region in more than 40 years rumbled through Cleveland, Detroit and other Rust Bowl cities just before noon Friday, shaking downtown office towers and startling residents who had come to believe that earthquakes happened only in California.
But the tremor, which was felt in nine states and Canada, as well as big cities from Chicago to Washington, D.C., caused only minor damage and no reported injuries, local officials said.
The quake hit at 11:47 a.m. EST. It registered 5.0 on the Richter scale and was centered about 30 miles northeast of Cleveland near the small town of Thompson, Ohio, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Officials at the National Earthquake Information Center in Boulder, Colo., said that a quake the size of the one Friday was "extremely rare" for the Upper Midwest. But they noted that California has earthquakes of similar magnitude about twice a year.
Although no serious damage was reported, the earthquake was powerful enough, especially in northern Ohio, to knock pictures off walls, goods off store shelves and cause cracks in buildings.
Office towers in downtown Detroit, including the 74-story Renaissance Center, shook for several seconds, completely surprising Detroit residents, who could not remember ever having experienced an earthquake here before.
"I wondered what was going on. Never in the world would I have thought of an earthquake," said Charlotte Schutt, a 74-year-old secretary and lifelong Detroit resident.
Puzzled Office Workers
Denise Malone, a secretary at the Renaissance Center, said hardly anybody in her office knew what was happening because they had never experienced an earthquake. "Everyone came out of their offices, looking at each other, but nobody knew what was happening," said Malone. It took an employee from New Zealand to explain to the startled Midwesterners that they had just been through a moderate earthquake, she added.
The earthquake was felt in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, New York state, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and parts of Ontario, Canada. There were even reports that buildings near the White House were shaken by the temblor.
"This quake was significantly larger than previous Ohio quakes, with the exception of one or two in the 1930s," said Mark Wilson, a professor of geology at the College of Wooster.
The last quake to come close was one in March, 1943, that measured 4.5 on the Richter scale. Each increase of one number on the Richter scale means a tenfold increase in magnitude.
Nuclear Workers Evacuated
Emergency alarms were activated, and non-essential workers were evacuated at the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.'s Perry nuclear plant in Painesville, Ohio, near the epicenter, according to officials at the Ohio Disaster Service Agency. The plant's fuel rods have not yet been installed, so there was no danger of a nuclear accident, the agency said. Company spokesman Lee Bailey said that some fuel rods were waiting on the site to be loaded in reactors but were not damaged. The utility's 650-megawatt generator at its Eastlake coal-burning plant was knocked out by the quake, but other power sources took up the slack.
Two coal-fired generators at Detroit Edison's Belle River power plant, in St. Clair, Mich., were also shut down by an automatic safety device triggered by the quake.
In Mentor, Ohio, about a dozen miles from the epicenter, a Sears department store at a shopping center was closed, while a local school was evacuated to check for cracks.
Horace R. Collins, state geologist and chief of the Ohio Division of Geological Survey, said the cause of the quake was something of a mystery because there are no known geologic faults near the surface of the earth in the region where it occurred.
Collins speculated that the quake had occurred in a fault deep beneath the surface. "We know there has to be something there, but we just don't know how deep the fault is," Collins said.