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4.0 earthquake centered in Maine rattles New England

October 16, 2012|By Joseph Serna

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake likened to an off-balance washing machine shook New England as far south as Connecticut on Tuesday evening. No damage or injuries were immediately reported. 

The earthquake occurred at 7:12 p.m., the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was four miles from Hollis Center, which is about 20 miles west of the state's largest city, Portland.   Initially, the USGS put the magnitude at 4.6, but later downgraded it to 4.0.

Either way, New England is not used to the earth shaking.

Barbara Reigelhaupt and her husband recently moved into a new second-floor condo in South Portland, adjacent to Portland. Both are earthquake veterans -- they lived in the Los Angeles area for seven years but have been in Maine since 1984. 

When the earthquake struck, she was at home.

“We experienced significant shaking,” Reigelhaupt told The Times. “And the only time I remember an earthquake in L.A. was when we were sitting in the movie theater in Santa Monica.

"I feel like we experienced a similar kind of significant shaking here, but we did not immediately think of it as an earthquake," she  said. "My first thought was, we’ve been in this apartment for two weeks; is something going on in this apartment? Because this is Maine, and we don’t have earthquakes.”

Another resident of southern Maine, Carol Eisenberg, was sitting at her dining room table with her husband on Peaks Island, about three miles off the coast. She  said she heard the quake before she felt it.

"There was a kind of rumbling sound, the house was shaking. My first thought was the washing machine was overloaded and tilting," Eisenberg told The Times. "It was interesting because you could hear it, a sort of rumbling sound. A little bit like an airplane flying over.... My husband was the first to identify it. It lasted long enough that we could have a conversation about it while it was going on."

Matt McCloskey, 33, was in his third-story Boston apartment when the building began to shake.

"Out here we don't get it very often; it definitely shook me for a minute," he told The Times. "For the first minute, first 15 seconds, you sort of look around and wonder, 'Something weird happened.' It feels sort of like you're standing near an unbalanced washing machine."

Earthquakes east of the Rockies can be felt over an area as much as 10 times larger than on the West Coast, according to the USGS.

New England and Long Island are far from the nearest tectonic plate boundaries, which are far out in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the USGS reports. Historically, there have been few studies of small or deeply buried faults in the region, often leaving the source of the quakes unidentifiable.

"I don't think on the East Coast it's something you really prepare for," said McCloskey, a Boston native. "It really catches you off guard."

New England can experience a moderately damaging earthquake once every few decades and smaller ones a couple of times a year, according to the USGS. The last earthquake to cause moderate damage was a magnitude 5.6 in central New Hampshire in 1940.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna

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