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‘That was an earthquake!': Residents of southwestern N.S. describe their experience with Sept. 29 magnitude 3.1 earthquake

Earthquakes Canada says a magnitude 3.1 earthquake occurred off the shore of Mavillette, Digby County, the morning of Sept. 29.
Earthquakes Canada says a magnitude 3.1 earthquake occurred off the shore of Mavillette, Digby County, the morning of Sept. 29. - Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH, N.S. – After the loud rumbling sound, it was the sudden bang and violent jolt that made people in southwestern Nova Scotia immediately question if there had been an explosion or crash on Saturday morning, Sept. 29.

But then most decided it was probably an earthquake. And they were right.

Earthquakes Canada, at Natural Resources Canada, says a 3.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 10:32 a.m. around Mavillette, Digby County. The depth was recorded at 10 kilometres.

“Lightly felt in in the Digby and Yarmouth NS area,” the website read. “There are no reports of damage and none would be expected.”

Still, people did hear or feel something.

Tina Helprin said she and her husband Rick were sitting in the kitchen of their Saulnierville, Digby County home.

“All of a sudden we heard a two-or-three-second rumble, directly followed by a loud boom type noise and our entire house shook. The wood stove in the kitchen has kettles on top of it and they were rattling,” she said, saying it scared one of their dogs, who ran to her for comfort. “This very loud noise then carried on with another two-or-three-second rumble right after the boom. My husband described it as a "wave type" effect. We both looked at each other and I said, ‘That was not thunder!’ and he said, ‘Nope, it sure wasn't! I said, ‘That was an earthquake!’”

The Earthquakes Canada website says the 3.1 magnitude earthquake happened in this location on Sept. 29.
The Earthquakes Canada website says the 3.1 magnitude earthquake happened in this location on Sept. 29.

Many people said they felt and heard something in their homes, workplaces and also at Université Sainte-Anne.

“I was at work in Church Point, (Digby County). I heard a slow rumbling sound, lasted for 30 seconds. It woke up a student in the building. I asked this student, “Did you hear an odd noise too?” She answered, ‘I heard it, it woke me up,’” said Elizabeth Thibault. “At first I thought it was the sound of thunder, but it was sunny outside. Then I thought maybe it was a plane passing by . . . It was a scary uneasy feeling hearing this rumbling sound.”

Others described the quake this way.

“I was on my patio. Heard the rumble first and then the vibration,” said Beth Clements Sweeney of Meteghan Station, Digby County. “It was quite loud and it was strong enough that I'm sure things inside the house shook. My cat took off to the woods. I live in Meteghan Station, Digby County.”

While many did notice the earthquake, others in the region felt nothing.

“I was talking to my mom on the phone and we live 20 minutes away from each other. I heard the rumble, both on the phone and on my end of the phone. My mom freaked and thought someone had driven into her house with a vehicle,” said Reanne Jeffery. “I felt my feet vibrate from below me. We couldn’t believe we both heard and felt it, while my husband at work felt nothing. It was strange.”

Several people were taken aback by what they heard.

“We just got a new pump put in minutes before the boom and the house shook. We ran to the basement because I thought it had exploded,” said Darlene Melanson. “It was an intense few seconds.”

“I heard and felt a big boom, followed by a few seconds of rumbling,” said Lynn Belliveau. “At first, I thought it was thunder. Then, a sonic boom. I even thought it might be a big truck that had an accident nearby. It was strange, especially because it sounded like it was right over or around my home in Meteghan River.”

In Yarmouth County, Josh Cottreau in Carleton said it sounded like a jet engine and said the whole house vibrated for about six seconds. In Gardners Mill, Yarmouth County, Deborah Thibault heard what sounded like a huge truck rumbling past or a prolonged roll of thunder.

“Never felt any shaking though,” she said.

Earthquakes in Canada are not uncommon. They happen virtually every day although the majority are not noticed by the public.

There have been several earthquakes in the area of Yarmouth and Digby counties in recent years. In 2015 there were several earthquakes recorded over a short period of time. A 2.9 magnitude earthquake happened 38 kilometres southeast of Digby on June 20 and on June 25 a 2.5 magnitude quake happened 39 km southeast of Digby. Those two quakes went largely unnoticed.

July 1, 2015, saw a 3.8 earthquake centred around 42 km NW of Yarmouth. People described that one much the same as this most recent one, saying they heard a prolonged rumbling sound that got increasingly louder until it culminated into a large bang – to many it sounded like an explosion. People reported that the house or building they were inside of shook.

Although still a weak earthquake, at 3.8 it was one of the top 5 ‘strongest’ magnitude earthquakes recorded in Canada over a previous 30-day span at the time, during which there had been around 315 earthquakes recorded.

Other recent earthquakes in the region have included a 3.2 earthquake centred 19 kilometres north of Yarmouth on June 9, 2016. On Dec. 13, 2016. A 3.0 earthquake was recorded around Church Point, Digby County. In August 2017, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake was recorded 41 kilometres northwest of Yarmouth.

When earthquakes happen the public is encouraged to report it to Earthquakes Canada and to fill out a questionnaire on their website. “You can help provide information about the extent of shaking and damage for earthquakes in Canada,” the website reads. “The specific details you may provide will help us determine how your area may respond to future earthquakes.”

The questionnaire asks for locations of where the earthquake was felt, the time it happened, the duration, the type of building you may have been inside of, if there was shaking or other effects from the earthquake and if there was damage.

Earthquakes in Canada, of course, pale in comparison to ones held elsewhere in the world. A devastating and destructive magnitude 7.5 earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami happened in Indonesia on Sept. 28. The destruction is massive and the death toll high.

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