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Strong Earthquake Shakes Central Oklahoma


Damage from an earthquake in Cushing, Okla., is seen in this photo posted to Twitter by Kevin Stump.

A sharp earthquake centered near one of the world's key oil hubs Sunday night triggered fears that the magnitude 5.0 temblor might have damaged key infrastructure in addition to causing what police described as "quite a bit of damage" in the Oklahoma prairie town of Cushing.

City Manager Steve Spears said a few minor injuries were reported and questioned whether some of the community's century-old buildings might be unsafe. Police cordoned off older parts of the town to keep away gawkers.

"Stay out of the area," Spears told residents during a late-night news conference.

Emergency officials evacuated an assisted living center catering to the elderly in Cushing.

Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frazier said that while damage was reported at the Cimarron Tower after the quake, no injuries were reported among the home's residents.

A map showing the location of Cushing, Oklahoma.
A map showing the location of Cushing, Oklahoma.

It wasn't immediately known how many people lived at the building in downtown Cushing. Tulsa television station KOTV said some of those taken from the home were moved to the Cushing Youth Center.

Frazier said the temblor caused the most damage in and around Cushing's century-old downtown. A number of brick facades had collapsed, and window panes in several buildings shattered. Frazier said city leaders could do a better assessment after sun-up.

Cindy Roe, 50, has lived in Cushing all her life and said she's never felt anything like Sunday's quake.

"I thought my whole trailer was going to tip over, it was shaking it so bad," she said. "It was loud and all the lights went out and you could hear things falling on the ground.

"It was awful and I don't want to have another one."

Megan Gustafson and Jonathan Gillespie were working a shift at a McDonald's in Cushing when the quake hit.

"It felt like a train was going right through the building, actually," Gustafson, 17, said Sunday night as she and her co-workers stood behind a police barricade downtown, looking for damage. "I kind of freaked out and was hyperventilating a bit."

Gillespie, also 17, described the building as shaking for about 10 seconds or so.

But he said he wasn't as alarmed as Gustafson because he lives in an area that has experienced multiple earthquakes, especially in recent years.

"I didn't think it was anything new," he said.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said it and the Oklahoma Geological Survey were investigating after the quake, which struck at 7:44 p.m. and was felt as far away as Iowa, Illinois and Texas.

"The OCC's Pipeline Safety Department has been in contact with pipeline operators in the Cushing oil storage terminal under state jurisdiction and there have been no immediate reports of any problems," the commission's spokesman, Matt Skinner, said in a statement. "The assessment of the infrastructure continues."

Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frazier said two pipeline companies had reported no trouble but that the community hadn't heard from all companies.

The oil storage terminal is one of the world's largest. As of Oct. 28, tank farms in the countryside around Cushing held 58.5 million barrels of crude oil, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The community bills itself as the "Pipeline Crossroads of the World."

The Cushing Police Department reported "quite a bit of damage" in the town of 7,900. Spears said some damage was superficial _ bricks falling off facades _ but that some older buildings might have damaged foundations that would be difficult to assess until daylight.

Fearing aftershocks, Police Chief Tully Folden said people needed to stay out of downtown, where photos posted to social media showed piles of debris at the base of commercial buildings.

The Cushing Public School District has canceled classes Monday in order to assess the earthquake damage.

Oklahoma has had thousands of earthquakes in recent years, with nearly all traced to the underground injection of wastewater left over from oil and gas production. Sunday's quake was centered one mile west of Cushing _ and about 25 miles south of where a magnitude 4.3 quake forced a shutdown of several wells last week.

Spears said at the news conference that earthquakes are no longer out of the ordinary.

"I was at home doing some work in my office and, basically, you could feel the whole house sway some. It's beginning to become normal," Spears said. "Nothing surprises you anyway."

The U.S. Geological Survey said initially that Sunday's quake was of magnitude 5.3 but later lowered the reading to 5.0.

According to USGS data, there have been 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past week. When particularly strong quakes hit, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission directs well operators to seize wastewater injections or reduce volume.

A 5.8 earthquake _ a record for Oklahoma _ hit Pawnee on Sept. 3. Shortly afterward, geologists speculated on whether the temblor occurred on a previously unknown fault.