MELBOURNE, Australia – A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck south-eastern Australia Wednesday morning, damaging buildings and forcing hospitals to evacuate staff and patients. It was an earthquake of unusual magnitude in a country less sensitive to major tremors than neighboring countries.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly.
It is the largest earthquake in Victoria state in history, according to Adam Pascale, chief scientist at the Seismology Research Center. And it was the largest earthquake in the country since 2016, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Northern Territory, according to Geoscience Australia.
Wednesday’s earthquake collapsed building walls in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city and the capital of Victoria. He forced residents to flee apartments, smashed windows, left cracks in roads and led to blackouts.
Photos and videos widely shared on social media show a damaged building in Melbourne, with bricks spat out across the street.
The earthquake, initially rated at a magnitude of 5.8, was later ameliorated. It struck at around 9:15 am and was felt as far as South Australia, where a hospital evacuated staff and patients; in New South Wales, where companies have also evacuated; and in the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.
Two smaller earthquakes were recorded at 9:30 a.m. and 9:54 a.m., the geoscience agency said. The epicenter was in Mansfield, a regional city in the state of Victoria about 81 miles from Melbourne, the state capital.
Small earthquakes are not unusual in Australia, said Chris Elders, an expert in structural geology at Curtin University, “but what is very unusual is having such a large earthquake and it occurs near a population center, so it is very widely felt. . “
The 2016 earthquake was far from a city center and likely did not affect many Australians, Professor Elders said.
Australia sits in the middle of a tectonic plate, making it less susceptible to major earthquakes than countries on fault lines like New Zealand and Indonesia.
The earthquake struck on Wednesday as protests in Melbourne over Covid lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations for the construction industry continued for a third day in a row. The protests have at times turned violent.
But the earthquake did little to deter construction workers from protesting in Victoria. During anti-vaccination group discussions on Telegram, the messaging app, some protesters speculated that authorities orchestrated the quake to deter them.
“We have to be sure this is an actual natural event,” said one user.
Due to the rarity of earthquakes in the country, some Australians have said they did not realize what was going on at first, attributing it to a truck driving past their house or to their imagination.
“At first I thought it was a helicopter, as helicopters have been circling my house for a few days due to the protests in the city,” said Olivia Nemtsas, 25, who lives in Melbourne. “Everything was shaking in the house. I was leaning against the bench, and it was shaking too, ”she added.
Laurie Blampied, 66, who runs a ski resort near the quake’s epicenter, said she was surprised at the duration and strength of the quake. He fled the building to be safe. The ski resort also closed to allow inspections for damage, before resuming operations after about an hour, Mr Blampied said.
In 1997, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Western Australia. In 1989, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake killed at least 11 people and injured more than 120 in Newcastle, a town about 120 kilometers north of Sydney. The damage was estimated at $ 1 billion.
“It can be a very, very disturbing event for an earthquake of this nature,” said Mr. Morrison of the United States. “These are very rare occurrences in Australia, and I’m sure people would have been quite anxious or upset by it as a result.”
Meghan Dansie contributed reporting.