An earthquake that shook Western Australia’s goldfields overnight had the strength of an “atomic bomb” blasting underground.
Three earthquakes hit near Norseman, including a magnitude 5.2 tremor reportedly felt as far away as Perth.
The first was a 4.9 magnitude quake about 6km under the surface hitting about 11.30pm local time, then the 5.2 was about an hour later and the last was a 3.2 magnitude tremor about 1.44am on Sunday.
Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Dan Jaksa said it was the largest event in WA since the magnitude five earthquake in Kalgoorlie in April 2010, which left several buildings badly damaged.
He said the quakes were caused by tectonic stress due to Australia’s continental plate moving about seven centimetres a year and the one that hit shortly after midnight was the equivalent to an atomic bomb going off.
“When we see a nuclear test occur, they’re generally a magnitude five,” Jaksa said.
Geoscience Australia asks the public to fill out surveys on their website whenever they feel tremors.
Jaksa said so far about 100 surveys had been filled since midnight, including reports of the quakes being felt in Perth and Esperance, hundreds of kilometres away.
Brodie Woods, who works at Norseman BP, said he woke up to the first tremor on Saturday night, thinking someone was trying to break into his house.
“The window in my bedroom was rattling like crazy,” he said.
Woods said he ran outside to see who was trying to get in – joining most of his neighbours who thought the same thing until they realised it was a quake.
He then thought it was a nearby mine blasting, but then there was another.
Claye Poletti, the owner of the Bottlemart Express Norseman Hotel, said the 5.2 felt “pretty severe”.
“It kept on shaking, shaking and shaking,” Poletti said.
He said the 1934-built character pub didn’t sustain any damage but the quake rattled the two-storey landmark.
“It rocked the old building. It shook pretty well.”
Poletti said dogs could be heard barking madly, but Shadow, his Staffordshire terrier, wasn’t too worried.
“He’s pretty tough – he probably thought it was a heavy train like everyone else did.”
Jaksa said the quakes were significant but common in WA, particularly in the Wheatbelt region.
However, he considers Australian earthquakes “among the most dangerous in the world” because they happen randomly.
“We’re just not used to them, they’ll come out of the blue and in random places, so we’re just not as prepared,” he said.
Jaksa said it was important to stay inside and get under furniture.
“To run outside is the most dangerous thing to do – the majority of deaths occur outside the buildings,” he said.
The department of fire and emergency services said it had not received any notifications of building damage.
People from as far away as Kalgoorlie and Esperance – both about 200km away – had phoned Woods telling him they had also felt the earthquake.