South Australia earthquake biggest in 15 years

By AAP with AG staff 26 March 2012
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The biggest earthquake in Australia in the last 15 years has struck in South Australia, but left minimal damage.

THE BIGGEST EARTHQUAKE IN Australia in 15 years has shaken people living near the epicentre, but otherwise left them unscathed.

The 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck near Ernabella, in South Australia’s far north, just before 8.30pm (CDT) on Friday.

Ernabella, an indigenous arts hub, is home to about 500 Aboriginal people, with more living in about six communities in the surrounding region.

The remote area is just south of the border with the Northern Territory, about 317 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs, 230km southeast of Uluru and 415km northwest of Coober Pedy.

Geoscience Australia seismologist David Jepsen said people in the communities around the earthquake epicentre had reported strong shaking.

Earthquake Australia’s biggest in 15 years

“An event like this, there are a number of Aboriginal communities around there and they have experienced strong shaking,” David said. “We’ve heard from them, people have felt strong shaking, but we haven’t heard of any damage yet, but there is that possibility.”

There have been several aftershocks since the earthquake.

Friday’s earthquake followed two quakes in the area in the past week. The first, on March 16, measured 4.3 and the second on March 20 was magnitude 3.8.

Friday’s 6.1-magnitude earthquake is Australia’s biggest since a quake measuring 6.3 was recorded off Collier Bay on West Australia’s far north coast in 1997.

“This (Ernabella) earthquake would have been felt in Yulara (near Uluru), only weakly in Alice Springs and maybe as far as Coober Pedy,” David said.

South Australia Police said no injuries or damage had been reported.

Australia has 200 earthquakes a year

David said the region’s earthquakes are caused by the release of stress from the Earth’s crust, built up as the Indian-Australian tectonic plate moves, squeezing South Australia sideways by about 0.1 millimetre each year.

He said on average there are about 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or more in Australia each year and one earthquake above magnitude 5.5 about every two years.

The 1989 earthquake in Newcastle, NSW that killed 13 people was a 5.6 magnitude event and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people in New Zealand was magnitude 6.3.

Australia’s largest-ever recorded earthquake was in 1941 in Meeberrie, in central-west West Australia, with a magnitude of 7.3, but there was no fatalities.