Magnitude 4.1 earthquake hits Dover area

DOVER — A magnitude 4.1 earthquake struck the Little Creek area at 4:47 p.m. Thursday. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it stretched as far as northeast North Carolina and southern New York.

No damages were reported.

The last earthquake to strike Delaware was in 2011. That quake originated in central Virginia near the town of Mineral.

Thursday’s earthquake had an epicenter about 6.5 miles east of downtown Dover, where a holiday celebration was scheduled to begin at 5. The quake started about five miles underground.

Little Creek Mayor Glenn Gauvry said the shaking caused him to fall off the couch and also upset his pet.

“My parrot fell off his perch,” he said.

Mr. Gauvry said neighbors walked out into the street, wondering what just happened.

The National Weather Service reported the shaking was felt by people in Delaware, eastern Maryland, southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Kent County Emergency Management Director Colin Faulkner said he was relieved to see that the 911 center was fairly calm as of about half an hour after the quake.

“In terms of being inundated by calls regarding damage, that’s not happening right now,” said Mr. Faulkner. “It’s remarkably quiet right now.”

In the wake of the 2011 earthquake in the state, he said, the center was barraged with calls.

Normally at an “alpha level” of awareness in the 911 center, Mr. Faulkner said the county was elevated to a “bravo level” which includes heightened monitoring.

As far as expecting an aftershock, Mr. Faulkner said the 911 center would continue to monitor the situation throughout the night.

“If there is an aftershock and it creates challenges for folks, we’ll respond to that,” he said. “It’s my understanding that the aftershocks are usually lesser if they come at all. My advice would be for everyone to try to remain calm.

“There were a lot of rumors immediately that something exploded at Dover Air Force Base. That did not happen. I would caution people against responding to rumors like that.”

As of an hour after the incident, there were no reported injuries or damages at the base, according to a spokesman for the 436th Airlift Wing.

Dover Public Affairs and Emergency Management Coordinator Kay Sass was working on the second floor of City Hall when she felt the rumble.

“We’re upstairs and we heard it and we felt it,” she said. “Initially we went to the windows to check outside and see if anything was around the building.

“When that was clear, we right away expected it was an earthquake.”

Ms. Sass said she immediately checked the city’s electrical grid monitor and no outages were detected. No issues with infrastructure were reported either.

City staff then went online to confirm that an earthquake had just occurred.

Dover resident Bill Grunden said his wife initially thought the shaking was caused by something at Dover Air Force Base and was pleased to learn that wasn’t the case.

“We don’t get too many earthquakes around here, but you certainly know it when we do,” Mr. Grunden said.

Michael Scott Bundek, longtime chief of the Little Creek Volunteer Fire Co., was at the station when the earthquake occurred Thursday.

“We were doing maintenance on a truck and the whole truck shook and there was a loud bang,” he said. Having experienced the earthquake in Delaware in 2011, he realized quickly that the same thing was happening and confirmed it through the U.S. Geological Survey’s website.

“It seems like to me the reaction of most people was fear,” he said. “Obviously, on the East Coast, earthquakes are not very common.”

Some people in central Kent County, given their proximity to Dover Air Force Base, thought the sound and shaking they felt was a plane crash or explosion.

Mr. Bundek said some volunteers immediately reported to the fire station when they felt the quake and the company sent crews into the community to check for any obvious structural damage and kept others at the station on standby. One group went to Port Mahon, near where the earthquake originated, to check the company’s fire boat docked there.

As of 6 p.m., no damage had been reported outside of a few plates and pictures being knocked over from the force, he said.

“It’s really a wait-and-see situation,” he said.

He encouraged residents to check their homes today just in case the structure may have been affected.

When the 2011 earthquake affected Kent County, Mr. Bundek was at work on the telephone with a software company representative. As he reacted to the loud noise and questioned what was happening, the woman on the line — who could hear the noise because the speaker was on — answered him.

“The lady said, ‘You just had an earthquake. I’m from southern California,’” Mr. Bundek recalled.

In 2011, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter buzzed right away with reactions. People blamed jets, faulty appliances and even their children for the movement. Many remembered Sept. 11, 2001, and initially worried about terrorist attacks. Those rumors were quickly debunked.

At the time, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency reported minimal power outages and a single gas line rupture after the tremor hit. Although several government buildings were evacuated as a precaution, there were few reports of only minor damage. After assessing Delaware’s roadways and bridges afterward, state transportation officials reported no damage or closures.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the state has a spotty, infrequent relationship with earthquakes.

Delaware residents noted effects from two earthquakes even before the state entered the Union in 1787, though neither caused damage in Delaware. A strong New York shock occurred a half-century earlier, and one hit off the Massachusetts coast in 1755.

The only earthquake to center in Delaware and cause severe property damage occurred on Oct. 9, 1871. In Wilmington, chimneys toppled, windows broke and “residents were quite bewildered by the unusual event,” the survey reported.

Lighter damage was sustained in Newport, New Castle and Oxford, Pa.

A tremor in March 1879 on the Delaware River, not far from Dover, was felt strongly in that area, according to old seismic records.

Only about 100 earthquakes per year are strong enough to cause damage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Thursday’s earthquake was about 355 times weaker than the 5.8 one in 2011.

Craig Anderson, Mike Finney and Ashley Dawson also contributed to this story.

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