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Strongest earthquake to hit Buffalo in decades causes 'surreal' rumbles in southern Ontario

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A 3.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near Buffalo, N.Y. Monday morning was "lightly felt" in southern Ontario.

Natural Resources Canada said there are currently no reports of damage and that none should be expected after the event.

The federal government’s seismogram viewer shows the quake struck at 6:15 a.m.

Earthquakes Canada said the shock wave originated six kilometres east of Buffalo, N.Y., 97 kilometres east southeast of Hamilton, Ont., and 101 kilometres southeast of Toronto.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which classified the quake at a magnitude of 3.8, the seismic activity originated in West Seneca, N.Y.

Earthquakes Canada, meanwhile, said the event registered as a 4.2-magnitude earthquake on the Richter Scale north of the border.

Seismologist Yaareb Altaweel told the Associated Press it was Buffalo's strongest quake in at least 40 years.

Surveillance video shared with CTV News Toronto from a home in Buffalo shows the moment the earthquake struck.

A loud thud can be heard before the structure shakes and its residents are awoken.

An earthquake struck near Buffalo, N.Y. on Feb. 6, 2023. (United States Geological Survey)

Stephen Halchuk is a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada and said while earthquakes in the western end of Lake Ontario and the eastern end of Lake Erie are common, Monday’s is “a bit larger” than normal.

“This scattered low-level activity is going on all the time. Most of the earthquakes that occur in this region are too small to be noticed by people,” Halchuk told CTV News Toronto in an interview.

“But today’s event was just a little bit larger and was felt as strong, but short duration, shaking by people in southern Ontario and northern New York state,” Halchuk said, adding that the earth’s tectonic plates are constantly moving at a speed of about five to 10 centimetres per year -- about the same speed as a fingernail grows.

Halchuk explained that because southwestern Ontario is located in the middle of the North American tectonic plate, and not on a plate boundary like California, for example, earthquakes in the area are rarely powerful enough to create any significant damage.

“There are small faults below the earth’s surface that never really get large enough to break the earth’s surface. As stresses in the earth’s crust build up over time, the energy gets released in these small earthquakes in the region,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, Niagara mayor Jim Diodati described the moment the earthquake struck as “surreal.”

“It woke me up at 6:15 a.m. – I thought there was a snowplow going out in the street, very loud,” Diodati recalled.

“Right away, I thought about the power plants, I thought about a lot of things,” he continued. “So we checked in on the Skylon Tower, the big hotels, the [Ontario Power Generation], the Niagara Parks Commission, and everything's okay."

Diodati took a moment while speaking with reporters Monday to extend condolences to the people of Syria and Turkiye, who suffered through a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Monday that left more than 3,400 people dead.

“We’d like to offer our sincere condolences to the people of Syria and Turkiye for what they're going through right now. We know it's devastating,” he said. “Canada is a country of immigrants from all over the world, and I know there's a lot of Turkish and Syrians here, and I know that a lot of them are worried about family back home.”

Monday’s earthquake in Buffalo was “quite small” compared to the disaster in Syria and Turkiye, Halchuk said.

Ground movement, or shaking, at the epicentre of that earthquake would likely be 10 times the intensity of Buffalo’s and the amount of energy released would be 1,000,000 times stronger, according to Halchuk. 

Earthquakes Canada data shows the strongest seismic event ever to take place in the region was on Aug. 12, 1929, when a 5.5-magnitude earthquake was recorded. 

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