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Weekend earthquake shakes up western Queens

A minor earthquake rattled nerves but did little physical damage when it struck western Queens early Saturday morning, registering 2.6 on the Richter scale.

The tremor, which hit at 1:42 a.m. and lasted for only a few seconds, was centered directly south of Central Park on the East Side of Manhattan, nearly in line with the Queensboro Bridge, according to coordinates provided by the United States Geological Survey.

But the quake was felt keenly in Long Island City and Astoria, where residents said more damage was inflicted on their psyches than their property.

“I heard this loud noise and the house shook,” said Monica Cavazzini of 21st Drive in Astoria, who was lying awake at the time because she has suffered from insomnia since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “I was convinced it was a bomb.”

But not everyone suspected terrorism when they felt the earth move.

Cheryl Heidel, who lives at Newtown Avenue and 27th Street in Astoria, said she was frightened by the noise but never considered that it could have been a bomb or an earthquake.

“It was like elephants jumping up and down on the floor above me,” she said.

Earthquakes at a magnitude between 2 and 3 on the Richter scale strike 1,000 times worldwide in a single day, say scientists.

“We don’t usually report them this size because that’s what I’d be doing every minute of the day,” said Carolyn Bell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey.

But heightened anxiety caused by the World Trade Center attack and fears of new terrorist activity prompted the Geological Survey to clarify the nature of Saturday’s seismic event.

“Where it occurred, people were a little sensitive to other things,” Bell said. “We thought you should know it was an earthquake, it was not a bomb, it was not a building collapse.”

Instruments that captured the World Trade Center’s collapse registered the impact at 2.0 on the Richter scale, Bell said.

The earthquake damaged no property beyond some dishes and other small items, and it had no impact on the structural integrity of any buildings.

“It was not enough to weaken anything that is standing,” Bell said.

The tremor in New York could be felt throughout Long Island and into New Jersey, traveling a greater distance than a comparable earthquake would in California, where many more fault lines isolate such events to a smaller area, Bell said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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