'Unexplained' earthquakes increase in Oklahoma

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Jess Burrow, left, and James Patterson, look over the damage caused outside the home of Joe and Mary Reneau when their chimney was toppled by Saturday’s earthquake, in Sparks, Okla., Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SPARKS, Okla. — Clouds of dust belched from the corners of almost every room in Joe Reneau’s house as the biggest earthquake in Oklahoma history rocked the two-story building.

A roar that sounded like a jumbo jet filled the air, and Reneau’s red-brick chimney collapsed and fell into the roof above the living room. By the time the shaking stopped, a pantry worth of food had been strewn across the kitchen and shards of glass and pottery covered the floor.

“It was like WHAM!” said Reneau, 75, gesturing with swipes of his arms. “I thought in my mind the house would stand, but then again, maybe not.”

The magnitude 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks still had residents rattled Sunday.

Two minor injuries were reported from Saturday’s quakes by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, which said neither person was hospitalized. And, aside from a buckled highway and the collapse of a tower on the St. Gregory’s University administration building in Shawnee, no major damage was reported.

But the weekend earthquakes were among the strongest yet in a state that has seen an unexplained increase in seismic activity.

Oklahoma typically had about 50 earthquakes a year until 2009. Then the number spiked, and 1,047 quakes shook the state last year, prompting researchers to install seismographs in the area. Most of the earthquakes have been small.

Saturday night’s big one jolted Oklahoma State University’s stadium shortly after the No. 3 Cowboys defeated No. 17 Kansas State. Fans were still leaving the game.
“That shook up the place, had a lot of people nervous,” Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon said.

The temblor sent Jesse Richards’ wife running outside because she thought their home was going to collapse. The earthquake centered near their home in Sparks, 44 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, could be felt throughout the state and in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, northern Texas and some parts of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Richards estimated it lasted for as much as a minute. One of his wife’s cookie jars fell and shattered, and pictures hanging in their living room were knocked askew.

“We’ve been here 18 years, and it’s getting to be a regular occurrence,” said Richards, 50. But, he added, “I hope I never get used to them.”