Update on Oklahoma earthquake: 45 evacuated, one injured

Eagle reporter Oliver Morrison explains why Sunday's earthquake is a big deal

A magnitude-5.0 earthquake struck near Cushing, Okla., between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, on Sunday night, Nov. 6, 2016. (Video by Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle)
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A magnitude-5.0 earthquake struck near Cushing, Okla., between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, on Sunday night, Nov. 6, 2016. (Video by Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle)

Officials from Cushing, Oklahoma, said that its residents escaped some close calls during Sunday night’s magnitude-5.0 earthquake, with only one injury reported so far.

But the damage to its downtown required the evacuation of 45 people and has left the area temporarily uninhabitable. The damage is severe enough that rebuilding will take weeks, according to Stephen Spears, the city manager.

The town’s oil companies shut down to assess their damage on Sunday night but Spears did not know whether they had reopened yet, he said. The oil companies near Cushing store more than 65 million gallons of oil, more oil than any other city in the U.S. Its pipelines move more than a million gallons of oil per day and Bloomberg has called Cushing, “the pipeline capital of the world.”

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“The majority of our oil facilities are outside the city limits,” Spears said. “They did shut down operations to do their assessment. I do not know if they started back up but they will only start back up if nothing is wrong.”

The majority of the ceiling tiles at the town’s public safety center fell, and there was a gas leak and multiple water leaks, according to town officials. The gas has been turned off.

The town is currently employing a structural engineer to determine whether there damage to downtown buildings pose a danger to residents; currently the area is blocked off. It was too early to say whether the buildings with the most damage would be salvageable.

“We want to assure the residents that we have everything under control,” Spears said.

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The oil companies that report to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have not reported any damage and have resumed operation, according to Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the OCC.

But the commission has limited jurisdiction on some of these companies, Skinner said.”State regulation applies only to a few of the operators at Cushing,” he said. “Under Oklahoma law we can have no stronger roles than what the Feds have in place.”

“Our investigation into the incident is ongoing,” according to Susan Hand, a spokeswoman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The pipeline agency has jurisdiction over many of the affected oil sites, Skinner said.

The commission released a statement that said it is looking into making changes to oil operations in the area of both Sunday’s 5.0 magnitude earthquake and last week’s 4.6 magnitude quake.

In October the Tulsa World reported that engineers in Cushing were running tests to build better storage tanks so that stronger earthquakes wouldn’t cause any damage. The test run by Kenneth Erdmann, of Matrix PDM, indicated that Cushing’s largest tanks were at some risk of structural failure from oil sloshing and shifting.

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The price of oil futures rose Monday and some investors are worried. “It’s definitely a long-term negative development if you are getting earthquakes of that magnitude at such an important site,” Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York, told Bloomberg. “It doesn’t bode well for the future.”

About 45 residents had to be evacuated from a city building after the roof caved in, tiles from the ceiling fell on moviegoers at the downtown theater and a man cut his arm while trying to leave his residence while the power was out.

So far city officials had only surveyed the exterior of the buildings, where chunks of walls as large as about 80 feet by 20 feet had fallen into the street, Spears said.

The building that houses the town’s newspaper, the Cushing Citizen, and is home to its publisher, David Reid, suffered some of the most severe damage, Spears said.

About 45 people who lived at Cimarron Towers had to be evacuated Sunday night, according to the Cushing fire chief. Most of them found shelter elsewhere, except for eight who stayed overnight in a makeshift shelter set up by the Red Cross.

The city has been getting help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is hoping that funds will be available from the state, according to Spears. “That’s our hope,” Spears said to reporters Monday. “If you have influence there we’d appreciate you providing that.”

The city lost power for a couple of hours Sunday due to earthquake damage from a power-plant substation but there were no downed lines, according to Elton Willard, the power plant superintendent. The power-plant itself suffered damage to a water valve, an air line and had ceiling tiles fall. “All in all, our plant is in good shape,” Willard said.

The post office had glass damage but Spears said he thought it would be fixed by Tuesday so that it would still be open for voting on Election Day.

The school suffered some damage to ceiling tiles and debris but Spears did not know if school would remain closed on Tuesday.

School was canceled for the day while the city determined damage, as was activities at the community center.

FEMA explains what you should do before an earthquake happens and when it occurs in an animated video called "When The Earth Shakes."

(Oliver Morrison/The Wichita Eagle)

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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