Nov. 13, 2002 – Buildings shook, cats went skittering across the floor and people clutched their furniture Wednesday as a 5.0 earthquake rocked the territory at 4:26 p.m.
"It was a good rumble," said Marilyn Mackay, who was sunning herself at the beach on the East End of St. John when she felt the wall underneath her start to shake.
According to geophysicist Waverly Person at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., the earthquake was centered 45 miles east-northeast of Road Town, Tortola.
Person said he did not have the depth, but said it was "shallow," which he explained meant less than 42 miles under the earth's crust. He said the earthquake lasted about 10 to 12 seconds.
The Puerto Rico Seismic Network's Web site reported the earthquake as a 4.7 on the Richter scale. Different facilities have different equipment in different locations, so the reports often differ slightly.
The Seismic Network pegged the earthquake's center at 15 miles northeast of Anegada and recorded the depth at 15.5 miles.
Person said a magnitude 5.0 earthquake was not that unusual for this area. However, most are in the lower 4.0 range.
Person said he doesn't expect any immediate reoccurrences like the cluster of earthquakes that happened in October 2001.
During that swarm, the Seismic Network reports that the region saw 204 earthquakes, with the biggest being a 5.2 on Oct. 17, 2001.
Clayton Sutton, deputy director at the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, said there were no reports of damage. Sutton added that the farther east one was, the greater the chance he or she felt this earthquake.
Kathy Demar, a resident of Catherineberg, St. John, was on the phone with a potential guest at one of her vacation villas when the trembling started. "He wanted to know if we were still going to be here," she said.
Demar said she was just getting ready to run out the door of her house when the shaking stopped.
Ashley Tomas, a clerk at Ace Hardware at Red Hook Shopping Center on St. Thomas, is a newcomer to earthquakes. She said she didn't know that they happened here.
"But I wasn't scared," Tomas said, adding that a woman in the adjacent store came running out during the earthquake.
Roger Damon, who lives at Ajax Peak on St. John, said he heard it rather than felt it. He speculated that because he was on the third floor of a concrete house, he wasn't able to feel the shaking experienced by others in the same neighborhood.
An office worker in downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas said that everything in the office was shaking. "I had to go under my desk. I felt like it lasted two minutes or so," she said.
While this one set nerves on edge, it wasn't the big one that experts keep predicting will happen here. The odds are good that a severe earthquake will hit because the territory is in the same earthquake zone as earthquake-prone California.
According to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit Web site, an 1867 tsunami generated from an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 between St. Thomas and St. Croix resulted in 20 deaths in the Virgin Islands.
Wednesday's earthquake was a reminder that Virgin Islands residents should be prepared for one that could cause major damage.
This means securing whatever you can. Things like gas cylinders and bookshelves should be secured to prevent damage to the items and to stop them from hitting someone if they fall over during an earthquake.
Should a big earthquake hit, residents should drop, cover and hold, meaning they should turn away from windows, crouch under a desk or chair, and if the desk or table moves, grab the legs and move with it.

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