Rare Australian earthquake triggers panic in Melbourne

The 5.8 magnitude quake was one of the strongest to hit Australia in years [James Ross/AAP Image via Reuters]

A rare earthquake rattled southeastern Australia on Wednesday morning, shaking buildings, knocking down walls and sending panicked residents running into the streets of Melbourne, the country’s second-biggest city.

The magnitude 5.9 seism struck at about 9:15am (23:15 GMT on Tuesday) near the rural town of Mansfield in the state of Victoria, about 180 km (112 miles) northeast of Melbourne, Geoscience Australia said.

The quake, one of the country’s biggest on record, was at a depth of 10 km (six miles). Hundreds of aftershocks were detected, with one measuring 4.0 magnitude.

Emergency services reported damage to buildings in Melbourne, and more than 1,000 homes across the state were without power.

Debris littered roads in the popular shopping area around Melbourne’s Chapel Street, with bricks apparently coming loose from buildings.

Zume Phim, 33, owner of the Oppen café in the area, said he rushed onto the street when the earthquake hit.

“The whole building was shaking. All the windows, the glass, was shaking – like a wave of shaking,” he told the AFP news agency.

“I have never experienced that before. It was a little bit scary.”

Emergency services respond to earthquake damage in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor [James Ross/AAP Image via Reuters]

Kim Hong, who was in the kitchen at one of the street’s bakeries when the quake hit, also rushed outside.

“The kitchen, when I was cooking, was wobbling,” she told the Age newspaper. “Oil was coming up from the fryer making a fire. I thought my kitchen was going to explode.”

The earthquake was felt as far away as the city of Adelaide, 800km (500 miles) to the west in the state of South Australia, and Sydney, 900 km (600 miles) to the north in New South Wales, although there were no reports of damage outside Melbourne and no reports of injuries.

More than half of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants live in the country’s southeast, from Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney, but the area is in the middle of the Indo-Australian Tectonic Plate, and seismic activity is not common.

“We have had no reports of serious injuries, or worse, and that is very good news and we hope that good news will continue,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on an official visit in Washington, DC, told reporters.

“It can be a very disturbing event, an earthquake of this nature. They are very rare events in Australia and as a result, I am sure people would have been quite distressed and disturbed.”

‘A real rumbling’

The quake on Wednesday was more significant than the country’s deadliest tremor, a 5.6 seism in Newcastle in 1989, in which 13 people died.

This was “the biggest event in southeast Australia for a long time”, Mike Sandiford a geologist at the University of Melbourne told AFP.

“We had some very big ones at magnitude six in the late 1800s, though precise magnitudes are not well known.”

An earthquake of this size is expected every “10-20 years in southeast Australia, the last was Thorpdale in 2012,” he added. “This is significantly bigger.”

The mayor of Mansfield, Mark Holcombe, said he was in his home office on his farm when the quake struck and ran outside for safety.

Emergency and rescue workers examine a damaged building in the popular Chapel Street shopping area of Melbourne after a rare earthquake hit the area [William West/AFP]

“I have been in earthquakes overseas before and it seemed to go on longer than I have experienced before,” Holcombe told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The other thing that surprised me was how noisy it was. It was a real rumbling like a big truck going past.”

He knew of no serious damage near the earthquake’s epicentre, although some residents reported problems with telecommunications.

No tsunami threat was issued to the Australian mainland, islands or territories, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies