The Rev. Bryce Hansen, the minister at Conway Springs’ United Methodist Church, said he was writing a Bible study unit Wednesday afternoon when he experienced his first earthquake.
“It was weird,” he said. “Everything was rattling, the books were shaking.”
He was in the middle of writing about the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world when the ground started shaking.
“That was kind of ironic,” he said.
Wichita and south-central Kansas were shaken by a sustained and moderate-strength earthquake at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday. The magnitude-4.8 earthquake had its epicenter eight miles south of Conway Springs in Sumner County, the U.S. Geological Survey reported on its website.
The earthquake had a depth of 3.4 miles.
It was felt by observers throughout Kansas and most of northern and central Oklahoma, the USGS reported. Seismographs in Taylorsville, N.C., and Erie, Pa., also recorded the Kansas quake.
“Slammed all of the inside doors here at the library,” said Cynthia Berner, director of Wichita Libraries. “So much for shhhh.”
In Conway Springs, there was no discernible damage beyond the decorative top on a bottle of tequila that fell from a shelf at the town liquor store. But a lot of people were shaken.
Most of the damage from the quake appeared to be in the tiny town of Milan, about 10 miles southwest of Conway Springs.
Police and fire officials set up hazard tape around the town’s former post office, which is now used for storage, and a brick schoolhouse now used as a community center.
Structural damage was visible at both sites. Argonia Fire Chief Scott Spinks, whose department serves that city and Milan, said Argonia also was shaken hard.
He said firefighting gear tumbled off shelves at the firehouse, and he had to catch the TV as it started falling to the floor.
Spinks said the area has had minor shaking before.
“It was exciting then, but now there’s damage to property,” he said.
At Howard and Terry Yale’s home in Milan, just about everything that had been on a shelf wound up on the floor, and they spent their Wednesday night picking things up.
Terry Yale, the city clerk in Milan, threw out two large buckets of broken glass. Among the debris were pieces of her mother-in-law’s china and antique glassware that her grandmother had left to her.
“That’s something you can’t replace,” she said as she picked up half a coffee cup from the china set.
The floor of the walk-in pantry was a haphazard pile of canned goods, and the floor of the bathroom was strewn with shampoo bottles, toiletries and medicine.
After the quake rolled through, “every cabinet in this house was open,” she said.
The Yales said they tried to buy earthquake insurance after the tremors started a few months ago. They were told that “until we had 60 days with no tremors, we can’t get it,” Howard Yale said.
Homeowner Orin Dodez, who lives next door to the damaged Milan library building, was cleaning up glass and trying to fix his propane heater at about 6 p.m. He said the quakes started around August, and he has carefully noted them on a wall calendar.
“They’ve been generally getting larger, higher magnitude than it was before,” he said. “This was the biggest one yet.”
He said he’s starting to worry about the structural integrity of his home because he’s seeing evidence of tilt in the floors. He said he has lived in the house for 25 years and never felt a quake until August.
“It’s something that I hadn’t expected,” he said.
Like many of his neighbors, Howard Yale blames the recent rash of quakes on fracking activity near the town. He said that for the past few months, he has seen tanker trucks carrying large amounts of water to drilling sites nearby.
“You can put two and two together,” said Howard Yale, a retired Boeing toolmaker. “You just can’t put all that water undergound under high pressure and not expect something to happen.”
A task force appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to investigate increased seismic activity in the state said in a report earlier this fall that there is insufficient research available to say what has caused the increase in the number of quakes. The group asked for more monitoring situations to gather more information.
On Wednesday, Brownback announced that the state would buy a six-station portable seismic network to monitor increased seismic activity in Harper, Sumner and Barber counties. According to a news release, the Kansas Geological Survey expects the monitoring stations will cost about $85,000 and will be operational in early 2015.
Before Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center had recorded 93 earthquakes in Kansas in 2014, ranging from magnitudes of 1.3 to 4.3, nearly all in Sumner, Harper and Barber counties.
The strongest earthquake in Kansas’ recorded history was a magnitude-5.1 quake in Manhattan in 1867, the USGS said.
Contributing: Joshua Wood of The Eagle
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.