A rare earthquake rattled southeastern Australia early yesterday, shaking buildings, knocking down walls and sending panicked Melbourne residents running into the streets.
The shallow tremor hit east of the nation’s second-largest city just after 9am and was felt hundreds of kilometers away.
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 5.8, later revised up to 5.9, and said it struck at a depth of 10km.
With Melbourne beginning its eighth week of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and bracing for a third straight day of violent anti-vaccine protests, most residents were at home when the quake struck.
Zume Phim, 33, owner of Melbourne’s Oppen cafe, said he rushed onto the street when the quake hit.
“The whole building was shaking. All the windows, the glass, was shaking — like a wave of shaking,” Phim said. “I have never experienced that before. It was a little bit scary.”
In a popular shopping area around Melbourne’s Chapel Street, masonry debris tumbled from buildings and littered the roads. Bricks and rubble surrounded Betty’s Burgers and large sheets of metal hung off the restaurant awning.
“We were fortunate that nobody was in the restaurant at the time,” the restaurant wrote on Facebook.
Sizeable earthquakes are unusual in Australia.
“It was quite violent, but everyone was kind of in shock,” cafe worker Parker Mayo, 30, said.
At magnitude 5.9, it was “the biggest event in southeast Australia for a long time,” said Mike Sandiford, a geologist at the University of Melbourne. “We had some very big ones at magnitude 6 in the late 1800s, though precise magnitudes are not well known.”
A quake of this size is expected every “10, 20 years in southeast Australia, the last was Thorpdale in 2012,” he said. “This is significantly bigger.”
Geoscience Australia reported the initial quake was followed by a series of four smaller ones, ranging from magnitude 2.5 to 4.1.
Sandiford said that Australians should expect “many hundreds of aftershocks, most below human sensitivity threshold, but probably a dozen or more that will be felt at least nearby.”
The quake “would have caused many billions of dollars in damage had it been under Melbourne,” he added.
The mayor of Mansfield, near the quake epicenter, said there was no damage in the small town, but it had taken residents by surprise.
“I was sitting down at work at my desk and I needed to run outside. It took me a while to work out what it was,” Mansfield Mayor Mark Holcombe told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We don’t have earthquakes that I am aware of — none of the locals I spoke to this morning had that experience with earthquakes here before — so it is one right out of left field.”
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