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Largest Colorado quake since 1973 shakes homes

By Steve Paulson

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 11:25 a.m. HST, Aug 23, 2011


DENVER >> The largest earthquake to strike Colorado in almost 40 years shook hundreds of people in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico, causing minor damage to a few homes.

The magnitude 5.3 temblor was recorded at about 11:46 p.m. MDT Monday about nine miles southwest of Trinidad, Colo., according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. That area is near the New Mexico border is and about halfway between Denver and Albuquerque, N.M. The quake followed three smaller ones that hit the area earlier in the day.

U.S. Geological Service geophysicist Shengzao Chen said the information center had received calls from more than 70 people in Trinidad and several dozen people in New Mexico who felt the shaking. More than 30 people in Colorado Springs, Colo., about 130 miles north of Trinidad, also reported feeling the quake, he said.

USGS geophysicist Jessica Sigala said Tuesday that Monday's earthquake damaged chimneys, cracked walls and knocked items off shelves, but there were no injuries.

A few homes were damaged and there were rockslides on Colorado Highway 12 and Interstate 25, but both highways remained open, a Las Animas County Sheriff's Office dispatcher said Tuesday.

The dispatcher, who would only give her first name as Kristina, said she was working when the biggest earthquake hit near midnight.

"Everything was shaking, but we had no power loss," she said.

She said authorities were still trying to assess the damage.

"I thought maybe a car had hit my house," said 70-year-old Trinidad resident Nadine Baca. "Then I called to my son and he said it was the third (quake) today."

Cathy Gutierrez of Raton, N.M., about 20 miles south of Trinidad, told The Associated Press Tuesday that she felt two earthquakes, one around 5:30 p.m. Monday and the big earthquake just before midnight.

"My bed shook with all my pictures. It just went back and forth. I thought someone hit my house. I ran outside. We've had some before (earthquakes), but never this strong," Gutierrez said.

It was a crazy feeling and something rare for Raton, she said. "It was a very scary feeling."

The quake at 11:46 p.m. Monday was the largest in Colorado since a magnitude 5.7 was recorded in 1973, said USGS geophysicist Amy Vaughn. That one was centered in the northwestern part of the state — about 50 miles north of Grand Junction, she said.

Sigala said there were several minor earthquakes that preceded the bigger one, including a magnitude 2.9 earthquake recorded about 8 a.m. Monday. A 4.6 quake was felt in the same area at 5:30 p.m., and a magnitude 3.0 quake was recorded about 9 p.m. There have been four aftershocks.

Sigala said the area occasionally has swarms of earthquakes, some lasting days or weeks, but Monday's temblor was unusual.

"A 5.3 is big for Colorado," she said.

The last time the area received such a series of earthquakes was in August and September 2001, when about a dozen smaller-sized temblors were recorded, Sigala said.

She said some people blamed that swarm on oil drilling in the area, but she said later studies proved those fears unfounded.

___

Associated Press writer Mark Carlson contributed to this report from Phoenix.






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