Houses shook, windows rattled and loose objects fell over as residents in the small town of Eidsvold were woken in their beds by the 5.1 magnitude earthquake at 1.57am on Monday morning.
The tremors were felt in the state capital Brisbane, about 430km to the south, as well as in Rockhampton, 320km to the north, and Toowoomba, around 328km to the south-west. An aftershock with magnitude 2.9 hit the same site about an hour later, and more are expected over the next few days.
Callers to ABC radio described their experiences as the quake struck. “The whole house shook – it just felt like the washing machine was off-balance,” said Dorothy, from Mundubbera, just south of Eidsvold. “It shook us and woke us up.”
Geoscience Australia seismologist Hugh Glanville said the earthquake – which was scaled back to magnitude 5.1 after initially being considered to be magnitude 5.2 – could have been devastating had it struck in a less remote area.
“Magnitude 5 earthquakes are generally damaging earthquakes if the epicentre is below a city or town,” he told ABC. “This one had a 15km radius and could’ve been very damaging.”
Seismologist Andrea Thom, also from Geoscience Australia, told the Brisbane Times that it was only the third earthquake stronger than magnitude 5 ever recorded in Queensland. The last was a 5.5 magnitude quake which struck about 45km south of today’s epicentre in 1935. Before that, the most recent Queensland earthquake stronger than magnitude 5 took place way back in 1883.
“We have had more than 800 felt reports, mostly people reporting more a sustained feeling of vibration, loose objects falling over and loud noises, so it’s quite noticeable,” said Ms Thom. “We have also heard that people in the hospital in Toowoomba were woken by it and in Bundaberg there were reports of power outages.”
Australia experiences 300-400 earthquakes a year, but typically only one or two exceed magnitude 5. Thirteen people were killed and 160 injured when a magnitude 5.6 earthquake devastated Newcastle, in neighbouring New South Wales, in 1989.