South-east Victoria has been rocked by more than 40 aftershocks after a magnitude-5.3 earthquake hit near Moe in Gippsland last night. The tremor struck 16 kilometres west of Moe, but was felt in the centre of Melbourne and in suburbs across the city’s west and south-east. It was also felt as far north as Shepparton and even Albury on the border with New South Wales.
The SES said it received dozens of calls for help for cracked walls and ceilings and a collapsed garage and chimney. Residents and business owners are being urged to check their properties for damage before returning inside. But the SES says there have been no reports of major damage. Residents reported hearing a roaring noise as the quake hit just before 9:00pm at a depth of about 10km.
An SES spokesman said there were 850 calls to emergency services in the first hour after the quake.
“The damage we’ve seen has largely been minor cracks in walls and a garage that has had some damage. We’ve also seen some shops that have had some stock come off the shelves,” he said. He said some homes did lose power after the quake but there have been no significant reports of gas leaks.
One of Australia’s top earthquake specialists says last night’s earthquake was the latest and biggest in a cluster spanning three years in the region. Gary Gibson from the Melbourne University says his department has been installing more equipment in the area because of the increased frequency of quakes. He says last night’s event at Moe was much further east than the series of quakes at Korumburra. He said the cluster started in January 2009 with magnitude-3.5 tremors. “It was followed in March by two magnitude.4.6 earthquakes and lots of aftershocks, and they’ve continued ever since,” he said.
“We had a magnitude-4.5 in July last year, there’s about 400 altogether that’s happened.” Seismologist David Jepsen said there were aftershocks of around magnitude 3.5 near the epicentre. “[It was a] shallow earthquake. That’s why people felt it so strongly,” he said.
“You do get the rolling because you get the surface waves that get generated that people can feel quite strongly.” ABC reporter Hamish Fitzsimmons spoke with a number of residents in a pub near the epicentre, who said glasses crashed to the ground. We have spoken to people in Moe and there are reports of things like supermarket shelves falling down and things coming off supermarket shelves.
A person in the Moe pub and they said glasses and bottles had come down. There was a pool competition going on there, and a woman I spoke to said she thought that the pool players may have thought they had been going at it a bit long. But there have been no injuries reported so far. There was one incident – we spoke to the ambulance service – someone was unlucky enough to be on a ladder at the time of the earthquake and they fell off.
Some Melbourne residents also reported seeing windows shaking during the tremor. Graham Miller, a resident in Heathmont in Melbourne’s east, said it was the biggest earthquake he had ever felt. “The most severe earthquake that I would say we’ve experienced at Heathmont in 60 years to my knowledge,” he said. “The shaking continued for about 45 seconds, and my whole house was vibrating visibly.”
Professor Mike Sandiford of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne says it is an unusual event. “It was a significant shaking event. We don’t often get earthquakes which shake much of Melbourne,” he said. “Every few years we have an earthquake which tends to be to the south-east of Melbourne in Gippsland which impacts the eastern suburbs, shaking the eastern suburbs and even more rarely gets to the city centre.”
The Federal Government says most home, building and contents insurance covers earthquake damage but individuals should check their policies. The Federal Minister responsible for insurance, Bill Shorten, says insurers should exercise diligence and compassion.
“I’ve been in touch with the insurance council since the earthquake occurred. The Insurance Council of Australia has advised me unambiguously that home and contents insurance policy does cover for earthquake damage,” he said. The SES information line is 1300 842 737.