Ripples from an earthquake near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border rumbled through Western New York just before 4 p.m. Friday, triggering dozens of calls to police agencies.
The 3:53 p.m. quake was centered in northwest Pennsylvania, about 15 miles northeast of Sharon, according to a statement released by the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.
Early estimates put its strength near 5.2 on the Richter scale, a "moderate" quake, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Colorado-based geophysicist John Minsch of the National Earthquake Information Center said the quake was felt as far north as Ontario and as far west as Michigan.
Minsch said the severity was not major, "but it was moderate, probably enough to knock things off of shelves, but we wouldn't expect extensive damage."
The Rev. James J. Ruddick, director of the Brown Seismograph Station at Canisius College, said Friday's earthquake would compare to that of a mere annoyance for residents of southern California, who have been subjected to quakes measuring between 6 and 7 on the Richter Scale on several occasions over the past decade.
Magnitudes of earthquakes are logarithmic, Ruddick explained. For each single full Richter scale value, the energy released is multiplied by 10. In other words, a 6.0 measurement would be 10 times stronger in intensity than a 5.0.
The Oct. 17, 1989 San Francisco earthquake that destroyed bridges, highways and buildings measured 7.1
Temblors from Friday's quake lasted up to several seconds in the Buffalo area. Police in Toronto fielded phone calls from surprised residents, and police agencies in Chautauqua County -- the Western New York area closest to the quake center -- took several reports from residents.
"The whole Town Hall shook," said Cheektowaga Councilman Thomas M. Johnson Jr. "I called engineering, on the other side of the town, and their building shook too. And my building here -- I'm in Dunlop on Sheridan Drive, the Tonawanda plant -- it shook."
Beverly Ranney was working in a law office on Whiting Road in North Tonawanda, more than 200 miles from the epicenter, when the shock wave arrived.
"We're in a solid stone building here, and everything was wobbling," she said. "My lamp was shaking, my computer screen was shaking like crazy. It seemed like it lasted about 15 seconds."
In another law office miles to the south, in the Town of Evans, secretary Mary Kalinski reported that "the whole desk and everything" started moving.
Much of the eastern United States lies atop a deep layer of rock that can resonate like a bell when a quake hits. The shock can travel long distances, as pent-up energy from crustal forces is released by a quick movement of rocks far below the surface.
A magnitude 5 quake near Attica in 1929 cracked the prison wall there and toppled chimneys in Buffalo, without much effect on the villages in between.
The University at Buffalo's Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, linked to a network of seismograph stations throughout the Northeast, got quick confirmation of the quake from the Canadian Seismological Survey in Ottawa.
"We've been able to confirm it was an earthquake," center spokesman Donald Goralski said within minutes of the temblors. But the quake, he added, also had been felt throughout a wide area of Ontario.
Residents all over Chautauqua County felt the earthquake. It was enough to shake some buildings vigorously, but there was no damage reported.
Carol Dickson of Jamestown said "I was standing in our kitchen, and the island in our kitchen shook. The windows rattled, and the floor was shaking. I remembered feeling one years ago, so I knew what it was."
Robert Hamilton, a security officer at U.S. District Court in Buffalo, said he was sitting outside a judge's office on the fourth floor when he felt his seat "start hopping up and down."
The courthouse is located at Court and Franklin streets, not far from City Hall -- where the quake was felt only as a "series of bumps" in the building's basement.
"I felt it," Hamilton said at the courthouse. "I was wondering if maybe a huge truck was rumbling by the building. Then the judge's secretary came out and said, 'What's going on?' "
For some, the quake brought back memories of the magnitude 3 quake centered 3 miles under the Town of Tonawanda on May 25, 1995. Two jolts during that event shook the area but produced no damage.
Magnitude 3 quakes can be expected here about once every 60 years. New York State experiences 100 to 185 quakes a year, most of them too weak to be felt.
Lancaster police reported "dozens" of calls Friday, with most residents reporting their house had been shaken but there was no damage. Amherst Police Chief John Askey said his dispatchers fielded "quite a few" calls from people who felt the tremor, and Town of Tonawanda police said the headquarters building shook and phone calls started coming in.
For some, it was a rude awakening.
"It was just like when you're sleeping and somebody shakes you awake," said a woman from Wendell Avenue in Kenmore, who declined to give her name.
"The whole couch started shaking, and it went right across the living room. It wound up in the middle of the floor."
Closer to the epicenter, there were even greater shocks for some. Others, including Cleveland pedestrians, felt nothing at all.
"It was like riding on a bumpy road," said Steve Fought, a campaign spokesman for U.S. Senate candidate Mary Boyle, who felt the tremor at his office in downtown Cleveland.
Dick Patton, a radio operator at the Cleveland State Park along Lake Erie, said he felt a "gentle, rolling motion that kept going for about 30 seconds."
"It's more of a thrill type thing than a danger," he said. "People in California would laugh at us."
Includes reporting by News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro and News Chautauqua Correspondent Sheila McCarthy.