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Earthquake rattles North Country, Ontario and Quebec?damages Canadian roads and buildings

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A deep earthquake shook buildings--and nerves--yesterday across the northeastern U.S. and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

The U.S. Geologic Survey says the magnitude 5.0 quake began at 1:41 p.m. and lasted at least 20 seconds. Rumbling began about 11 miles beneath the earth's surface, 40 to 50 miles north of Ottawa.

No injuries, but some buildings were reportedly damaged in Ottawa and provincial Quebec. Jonathan Brown has more.

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People across the North Country and as far away as Michigan and Boston felt the ground shake:

"The amount of energy released here is equivalent to millions of tons of TNT. When that much energy is released, it travels through the earth in waves. And those waves go for hundreds of kilometers."

Mike Rygel is an associate professor of Geology at SUNY Potsdam. He says recent history of the region shows a lot of seismic activity:

"Everybody thinks earthquakes are only in California, but in this area there are faults within the crust of the earth that even tho there's not a lot of motion, sometimes stress builds up and the rocks have brittle failure. They just kind of snap and break."

He says this is what happened yesterday.

Damage appears to be localized around the epicenter. The CBC reports the town of Gracefield, Quebec called for emergency help after the quake knocked over a church steeple and damaged several other buildings, including the town hall.

A number of roads were closed after a section of highway 307 collapsed near Bowman, Quebec. Several buildings throughout Ottawa were reportedly evacuated. And students have the day off at a handful of schools in the city as authorities check classrooms for structural damage.

Hank Hoffman lives in Ottawa. He was at home in his kitchen when he heard the start of the quake:

"First thing I noticed was a loud, rumbling sound, which seemed to get louder and louder and eventually, I could almost feel the rumbling sound. I remember actually grabbing my kitchen counter top. I don't think I really had to steady myself, but it was an instinctive thing to grab my counter top to make sure I was solid against something."

And then he heard something else, something no one ever wants to hear:

"There was a bit of shaking and I could hear what sounded like timbers kind of creaking on my roof or in my attic. And about this point my wife came running downstairs and she ran right out the front door, thinking, 'Uh oh. I think I better get out of the house.'"

And then it stopped. Hoffman says he gave his house a thorough once over, but didn't find any broken pipes or leaking gas lines.

For many people--further from the epicenter--the quake provided a kind of break from their daily schedule. Alan McLeod in Kingston, Ontario was attending a reception in city hall for a local man who was just named world champion town crier:

"So we're in this 1850s building on the third floor and he just finished his speech and everybody starts to applaud. And then the whole building starts to shake in applause."

He says the building seemed to move up and down rather than shake side to side. Still, he says, he heard the parquet wooden floors creak and start to crack.

In Plattsburgh, Laura Palkovic says the quake began as a low rumble:

"First I thought it was a truck. Then the rumbling kept going on. Oddly enough it didn't feel like an underground rumble, it felt like an overhead rumble. Like something above was making everything shake. Did anything move in your house? No. And actually, my husband is like the tshotshke collecting king of the world and nothing fell off the shelves."

All this rattling and rumbling lit up the phone banks at 911 response centers. Marty Hassett is director of St Lawrence County's department of emergency services:

"No calls on injuries or damage. Just people inquiring when their house moves... Are people calling and trying to verify that this was in fact an earthquake? They're trying to verify if it is and they're just trying to let us know it happened in their area."

Back at SUNY Potsdam, geology professor Mike Rygel says quakes of this magnitude hit the area frequently--in geologic time:

"In 2002, there was a 5.1 earthquake in Au Sable Forks. In 1983, there was a 5.3 earthquake in Blue Mtn Lake. In 1944, there was a 5.8 just north of Massena."

And while Rygel says anything could happen, it's unlikely yesterday's quake is a precursor of more to come:

"I think we've had probably most of the earthquake excitement that we're going to have for a while."

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