A 5.1 earthquake off the northern coast of Cuba gave some Southwest Floridians a jolt Thursday afternoon.
Emergency dispatchers across the area began receiving reports of “buildings swaying” shortly before 4 p.m.
Preliminary Quake Information from USGS:
Location: 110 miles SE of Key West, Florida
Preliminary Magnitude: 5(Mwp)
Depth: 12.4 (Mi)
Lat: 23.3 ° N / Lon: 80.6 ° W
Origin Time: 1/9/2014 3:57:47 PM
According to the USGS, there is no tsunami danger.
Michael Heeder, Cape Coral Fire Department spokesman, said firefighters inspected buildings for damage at Tarpon Point and Cape Harbour as a precautionary measure, but found none.
The earthquake struck at a depth of six miles 17 miles north-northwest of Corralillo, Cuba – about 265 miles southeast of Fort Myers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A 5.1 earthquake is considered moderate and can cause damage of varying severity to poorly constructed buildings. Officials in Cuba were still working to determine the extent of damage there.
Audrey McGrath Fitzgerald said she felt the quake in the Cape. “I was sitting in my office chair; it started to sway. I thought I was going crazy!”
The USGS website showed at least five people in the Whiskey Creek area reported feeling the temblor. Other reports were coming in from as far north as Orlando.
Michael Brown was napping in his bed on the eighth floor of HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers and woke up to his bed swaying.
“I was like ‘what?’ And I looked across and saw the blood pressure (machine) moving,” he said.
He said it wasn’t until he logged onto Facebook that he found out it was an earthquake.
“It was weird. I mean, you hear about earthquakes in California, but Florida doesn’t get earthquakes.”
Earthquakes are a rare occurrence in a state more accustomed to hurricanes. Several slight tremors hit South Florida in January 1942, from Miami throughout the Everglades and in Fort Myers, though the USGS says most authorities attribute those incidents to blasting.
The last known quake to strike Florida occurred in Quincy, northwest of Tallahassee, in 1952, rattling windows and doors.
The Key West Citizen reported Thursday’s tremors were felt on the island and at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office headquarters on Stock Island just off Key West.
"I'm from Washington state so I've felt that before," said Deputy Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. "The building swayed is what I felt and many people in our building felt. We started getting phone calls from people asking, 'What was that?'"
There was never a tsunami threat from Thursday’s earthquake.
Former Naples resident Ellen Prager, who was assistant dean at the University of Miami's Rosenstielo School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said it’s pretty unlikely Southwest Florida would experience a tsunami.
The area where the quake occurred is not on the right kind of fault, Prager said, and unless something occurred to displace water in the Gulf of Mexico, the threat of a tsunami is pretty low.
“If you have a deep earthquake (such as Thursday’s) and you’re not in a fault zone, you wouldn't have a tsunami,” she said.
One of the most seismically active locations in the Atlantic/Caribbean region is the Puerto Rico Trench, which has spawned numerous tsunamis throughout the years.
A major earthquake in the trench could cause a tsunami that might reach Florida and the East Coast of the United States.
Lending to the rarity of earthquakes in Florida is the fact it isn't on the edge of a tectonic plate. Prager said Florida is in a “passive setting in terms of tectonic movement, and that’s a good thing.”