Quakes pose little threat to mines

Sunday, September 27, 1987

Property owners wondering whether an earthquake might ever come along and drop their property into Reno County's honeycomb of salt tunnels or one of its dozens of salt wells can rest easy.

When you invest in Reno County property, you're on solid ground _ geologically speaking, that is.

"I can tell you that earthquakes in the whole state of Kansas are infrequent, and (Kansas doesn't) have a history of any large earthquakes," said Waverly Person, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center of the U.S. Geological Survey.

"They have had a number of earthquakes there, but most of them are very small, and look like nothing in the magnitude 4 or above range, as far as magnitudes are concerned."

The magnitude of an earthquake is measured on the familiar Richter scale: Earthquakes with a magnitude of 4 cause "moderate" damage. An easier way to talk about Kansas quakes, however, is to use the Mercalli scale of earthquake intensity, on which a 1 is hardly felt and 12 signifies total destruction.

"We had an intensity 7 in 1867," Person said. "You're talking about an earthquake that has caused some damage. Most have been much lower than that, all the way down to intensity 3, just barely felt." The epicenter of the intensity 7 quake was near Topeka.

Closer to home, geophysicists recorded an intensity 4 quake near Wichita in 1948, but Person said it wouldn't have been anything to write to California about.

A quake that registers 4 on the Mercalli scale might be felt indoors and awaken especially light sleepers, but wouldn't frighten anyone.

"It's not a highly seismic state, as far as earthquakes are concerned," Person said.