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Earthquakes drop in; Rumbly visitors just keep coming back.

Byline: George Barnes

KILLINGLY, CONN. -- The "Quiet Corner'' of Connecticut has not lived up to its name in the past several days, and people are wondering why.

"It's been a little rumbly,'' understated Bob Colli, a retired corrections officer on All Hallows Road in Plainfield.

It has certainly been rumbly, and noisy enough that Boston College's Weston Observatory installed a device to record earthquake activity in his garage. This was after a swarm of earthquakes hit the town in less than two weeks.

To date, according to Boston College's Weston Observatory records, there have been 11 earthquakes in the Plainfield area and one near Concord, Massachusetts, all since Jan. 8.

"It's every morning,'' Mr. Colli said.

While people may be familiar with the shaking and rolling of the earth caused by an earthquake, there is also a loud noise associated with the releasing of energy for a shallow earthquake, according to John E. Ebel, head of Weston Observatory.

The observatory, located in Weston Massachusetts, tracks and researches earthquakes throughout the Northeast. To try to get to the bottom of the Connecticut earthquake swarm, researchers from the observatory have installed a monitor at Mr. Colli's home and three other locations in northeast Connecticut. Mr. Colli said his home was selected because it is in the general area where the quakes have been felt, and he has a detached garage, which he was told was key to the observations. He said why the quakes are happening is confusing to him and he has been told the source is not yet determined. In November when two other quakes hit the region, he thought it had to do with a nearby quarry.

"I got angry,'' he said. "I thought someone was blasting illegally.''

The quarry, located about a quarter mile from his home, has been closed for five years, but Mr. Colli said he thought someone was working there illegally. He later learned it was the two small earthquakes.

This time the earthquakes have been a daily experience and are again rumbling in Plainfield, but also in nearby Killingly, especially in the village of Danielson.

Mr. Ebel said the quakes are all naturally occurring. He said they could be helped along by some type of mining, but there is no hydrofracking or injecting waste into bedrock going on in Connecticut. Those are more likely to cause earthquakes. They are the cause of many quakes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and other areas.

Most people who felt the quakes first thought they were something else. Killingly Town Clerk Elizabeth Wilson said she felt the earth moving twice and learned later of the earthquakes or at least thinks she felt quakes.

"We got a little shaking Friday and Monday,'' Ms. Wilson said. "I thought it was a snowplow going by.''

Others in her family felt it as well. She said her brother thought his furnace had backfired. Her mother's door was ajar.

"It was strange,'' she said. "We're not used to something like that happening.''

Sue Allard of the Danielson section of Killingly described the earthquake as being like a car accident.

"I thought someone smashed into my stonewall,'' she said.

Ms. Allard, who organizes recreation programs for Putnam, said the earthquake she felt happened Monday.

Almost no damage has been reported from the series of quakes, but the police dispatch in Plainfield was flooded with calls each time one hit. Concern over what it means and what could happen led to the town's police and fire chiefs and First Selectman Paul Sweet organizing a task force to get to the bottom of the problem, contacting earthquake experts and even a retired science teacher with an extensive knowledge of the region's geology. The town was expecting to hold a community meeting Friday night to discuss the situation.

"When the first one hit, we thought it would be a one time thing, but they kept happening,'' Mr. Sweet said.

The boom that preceded each earthquake is what got people concerned. It sounded like a car accident or an explosion. Many called the police.

Mr. Sweet said there is no way to predict when the next quake would hit. The reason why they are hitting is still being analyzed. He said the meeting was planned to better inform people of what is happening.

"The big question everyone is asking is when is the big one going to hit,'' he said.

There is no guarantee a big one won't hit, but Mr. Ebel said swarms are not unusual. The Moodus area in southeast Connecticut has swarms all the time. In the 1980s there were hundreds of small earthquakes, but no big one. The biggest earthquake in Connecticut was in the late 1790s in that area. It was about 5.0 magnitude.

In a way, the big one has already hit, according to retired Plainfield science teacher Warren McKnight. It hit about 600 million years ago when an ancient African crustal plate collided with the North America plate creating the Lake Char fault.

The fault runs through Plainfield and up to Lake Char. Mr. McKnight said the fault is visible along the western base of Ekonk and Sterling Hills and it forms part of the basin of Lake Webster. The name of the fault comes from an ancient Nipmuc name for Lake Webster -- Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. The fault also runs under the old Plainfield dog track.

The Lake Char Fault is likely not the source of the current earthquakes. Mr. McKnight said it is a very old and inactive fault line and not likely to act like the San Andreas Fault in California, which regularly is the location of earthquakes, some very large.

Mr. McKnight built a seismograph model for his students when he was teaching, involving shaking a table with paper on it under a needle to demonstrate what a printout of earthquake activity would look like.

At home, he said he has another type of seismograph, which was set off during one of the recent earthquakes.

"My seismograph is my dropleaf secretary,'' he said.

He said the door that doubles as a desktop for the secretary is loose. He said it does not take much to cause it to fall. When the first earthquake occurred, he had just gotten up for the morning.

He heard a boom from outside and the a loud bang of the door to the desk crashing down.

Mr. McKnight does not expect a big earthquake to happen, although he too cannot guarantee anything. He said he is more amused and intrigued by the earthquake swarm than anything.

Contact George Barnes at Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG
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Author:Barnes, George
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1CT
Date:Jan 17, 2015
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