Early morning rumble like ‘very big train’ heading through isles


Did the earth move for you? This was the question being asked around the isles yesterday morning as Shetlanders awoke to reports of an earthquake.

Many folk heard a rumble and felt tremors in the early hours of morning. Speculation as to the nature of the noise seemed to centre on thunder or an explosion at Sullom Voe terminal.

However according to the British Geological Survey (BGS), it was in fact an earthquake, recorded as measuring 3.3 on the richter scale at 5.32am. The epicentre was an area 20km north west of Lerwick, thought to be around Breiwick.

This information was received after preliminary investigations and it is expected that after more research a more precise location will be found.

Reports of the earthquake came from as far afield as Unst, where people were woken by the noise, and Sumburgh, where a car alarm was set off by the tremors.

Bixter resident Jaqueline John­ston heard the rumblings. She was already awake as her husband had got up to start work gritting roads.

She said: “It sounded like a long low rumble, and went on for quite a while. The house shook a bit too. I realised it couldn’t be thunder though as it went on for too long.”

Trevor Rogers, from Aswick, South Nesting, said he was also awake to hear what he thought was thunder: “I was awake at 5.30am when it happened. It was very loud – it sounded like fairly close thunder. I thought it was thunder until I heard radio Orkney in the morning.”

Another witness from Gulber­wick described the sound “like a fast approaching, very big train” with everything in the house rattling.

Sandwick Junior High School head teacher Stuart Clubb also heard it as well at home in Lerwick, although didn’t fully believe his ears.

He said: “I’d already woken up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I felt a rumble – a peerie bit like thunder, and the house moved a bit. It seemed strange and it crossed my mind it could have been an earthquake, but I thought, ‘yeah right!’ It was only when I got to school and some of the pupils told me about it that I realised that it was.”

There have been more than a dozen reports of seismic activity since the BGS began recording activity in the 1980s, but the majority of these have occurred at sea.

Julian Bukits from the BGS said: “Generally the North Sea is seismically active, but Shetland itself is seismically inactive. The last occurrence measured 3.5 on the richter scale, but this was in the North Sea around 85km south east of today’s activity.”

According to Mr Bukits, the last decent sized activity to be felt on land was in Fair Isle in 1988 and prior to that in Unst in 1886, both of which measured at magnitude 2 on the richter scale.

Mr Bukits said: “In terms of Shetland [the earthquake] was quite substantial, but for the UK it was not significant.”

According to the BGS the cause of the earthquake was a build up of stress beneath the earth’s surface and not to do with being near a fault line.

A representative from the Coastguard said the organisation had had a few calls in the early hours of the morning with people reporting the noise, but none resulting in a call out. There have been no reports of any damage or casualties.


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