A very British response as earthquake strikes Kent

People emerge largely unscathed after tremor measuring 4.3 on Richter scale - and head for the pub to watch football
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The Independent Online

As chimneys fell from roofs, windows rattled and buildings shook, the confused residents of Kent stumbled out of bed early yesterday morning to learn that an earthquake had struck.

In scenes more reminiscent of Los Angeles than the Garden of England, locals listened anxiously to news bulletins and warnings of a possibility of a further aftershock.

Emergency crews raced to calls from Folkestone and other towns near the epicentre of the Kent quake, identified as 7.5 miles off the Dover coast.

Seismologists at the British Geological Survey said it registered 4.3 on the Richter scale, making it the fourth-largest in the history of UK tremors. The last big rumble was in Dudley in the West Midlands in 2002 and that scored 4.8.

For the residents of Folkestone, the tremor that shook them prematurely from their beds at 8.18am came as an unwelcome shock. Some thought a bomb had exploded as they awoke to shaking picture frames, rattling windows and falling tiles. Kent Fire and Rescue Service said it had received more than a 100 emergency calls and was dealing with "several incidents".

Emergency services reported that one person, a woman in her 30s, had been admitted to hospital with a head injury. Several others were bruised.

The tremor lasted seconds, but caused structural damage to properties, including cracked walls.

Police cordoned off roads amid fears that dislodged chimney pots and masonry could tumble down on residents. Safety checks showed the Channel Tunnel was unaffected. It was designed to withstand quakes measuring 7 on the Richter scale.

People may not have been badly hurt, but there were scenes of mayhem.

Bill Knightly was coming out of his bathroom when the shaking began. He tumbled down the stairs but was unhurt. At first, the 68-year-old believed the tremor was an aeroplane passing overhead. But then the house started to shake.

"As I was going down the stairs the shakes got stronger and I fell on my back," he said. "It was quite a shock. You don't expect earthquakes in this part of the world. But I'm OK."

Builder Alex Adams was actually on working on the roof of a house in Folkestone when the quake struck. The 23-year-old said: "I thought a train was going past and all of a sudden the tiles we had just laid starting falling off. As it got stronger I slipped and I was holding on to the scaffolding on the edge of the roof, with my legs dangling off the edge. I managed to pull myself back up after it stopped. I was sent straight back to work."

Hundreds of residents were also left without power for several hours as a result of the quake, the effects of which were felt in Folkestone and Dover, as well as parts of Essex and Suffolk.

Anxious callers started bombarding the local electricity board helpline at 8.21am when they discovered there was no electricity to make a calming cup of tea.

Eryn Evans, who is nine months pregnant, feared that the quake might bring on a premature labour.

The 26-year-old said: "I woke up thinking there had been an explosion, I sat bolt upright. The picture frames were rattling on the walls and two fell off. The window frames were rattling and I thought they were going to cave in.

"The TV was bouncing across the table. I was worried I would go into labour. It wasn't like War of the Worlds or anything, but it was pretty scary."

By yesterday afternoon, any fears had been forgotten and instead neighbours swapped anecdotes about how loud the bang had been and what ornaments they had lost.

Many of those temporarily evacuated found their way to the Black Bull pub in Canterbury Road.

One of them was Ray Lees. "I went in the garden and there were some bricks, I'm not sure where from, he said.

"It's something different for a Saturday," he said before turning back to watch the Everton and Manchester United match on the big TV screen.

Sizing up the Garden of England's earthquake

Yesterday's quake measured 4.3 on the Richter scale. According to the scale, the tremor was considered "light". A 4.3 quake would normally involve noticeable shaking of indoor items and rattling noises. There are normally around 6,200 of these kinds of earthquakes around the world each year. An exploding hand grenade produces a tremor equivalent to about 0.5 on the scale. By contrast, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which led to a tsunami that killed thousands, measured 9.3. The scale, which quantifies the amount of energy released by an earthquake, is named after its inventor, Charles Richter, who developed it in California in 1935.