For some, it was a big deal. For others, it was nothing earthshaking.
A small earthquake in Cecil County yesterday rattled windows and some nerves but caused no injuries or reports of significant damage. Authorities said the 7: 43 a.m. tremor registered 2.5 on the Richter scale and was felt in eastern Harford, western Cecil and southeastern Lancaster, Pa., counties.
Residents in those areas couldn't stop talking about it.
"We've had everything this year -- floods, blizzards and now an earthquake," said Ruth Clower, a floral designer who lives on Main Street in Port Deposit. "People were talking about it in the store and everywhere else."
Clower was showering when she heard a loud rumbling and felt shaking. At first, she thought it was a train traveling on tracks near her home, but she ruled that out because the sound stopped so quickly.
"There's a quarry near my house, so I thought it may have been them blasting," she said. "It was loud."
Dr. Waverly Person, chief of the National Earthquake Information Service in Golden, Colo., put the epicenter of the quake about 15 miles northeast of Aberdeen, near Rising Sun and Calvert in Cecil County.
The shock originated about three miles beneath the surface.
"It was what we would classify as a very minor earthquake," said Person. "No damage is expected."
Because of their rarity in this region, however, such tremors generate public and media interest.
For some, the quake passed scarcely noticed.
"I didn't feel it at all," said Kim Dooling, manager at the Union Hotel Restaurant in Port Deposit. "When I hear a rumble or something, I usually just assume it's one of the many trucks that pass through here."
None of the 840 students at Rising Sun Elementary School on Hopewell Road had arrived when the quake hit, but Principal Sandra Anderson said some staff members felt the shaking.
"The people who were already here ran out of the building believing that there may have been an explosion or something in the building," she said. "The ones that were home believed it was their water pumps or something like that."
The students seemed mostly unaffected by the tremor, Anderson said, with the exception of a third-grader who declared that he had been "standing right where it happened."
Although damaging earthquakes are rare in Maryland, small tremors are relatively common; dozens have been recorded since a 1758 quake in Annapolis.
State records and newspaper accounts show small quakes shook buildings and rattled windows in northeastern Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania in 1883, 1939, 1963 and 1984.
Marylanders felt the effects of a devastating quake in Charleston, S.C., in 1886. They also felt quakes in 1925, 1935, 1944 and 1988 that rattled much of the northeastern United States.
More than a dozen small tremors -- the largest of them magnitude 2.7 on the Richter scale -- were felt in Columbia between March and July 1993.
Geologists know very little about the origins of earthquakes in the northeastern United States. There are no major fault systems or colliding tectonic plates in the East like those that have caused major damage on the West Coast.
Dr. James P. Reger, chief of environmental geology and mineral resources at the Maryland Geological Survey, suspects that ground-water fluctuations or construction might have played a role in the Columbia tremors.
After they occurred, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Howard County taxpayers spent $23,000 to buy and install a seismometer in Columbia.
The instrument was purchased, Reger said, but the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University has never fulfilled an agreement to provide state officials with the training needed to install and operate it.
"It's sitting on a shelf in Palisades, N.Y.," Reger said. "We might have to find a new partner."
Pub Date: 10/18/96