February 19, 2010 08:29
A strong underground earthquake registering a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale occurred about 21 km from the Russian border with North Korea around 10:13 a.m. on Thursday, the Korea Meteorological Administration announced based on data by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The epicenter was 42.7 degrees northern latitude and 130.9 degrees eastern longitude 110 km southwest of Vladivostok near the border of North Korea, China and Russia.
The KMA said the quake was strong but the actual surface wave magnitude was a mere 2 because it happened 562.5 km below from the surface. "It's the kind of situation where objects hanging from the ceiling swing a little and parked cars shake slightly, so almost no damage seems to have been done to people or buildings in North Korea and elsewhere," a spokesman said. "The quake was a natural result of the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Eurasian plate. There always exists the possibility of strong quakes occurring on the Korean Peninsula as quakes stronger than magnitude 6 occur in the region every two years."
Quakes are becoming more frequent. According to Chosun Ilbo's analysis of the KMA data, 157 quakes occurred in both Koreas in the 1980s, but the frequency soared to 259 in the 1990s to 436 in the 2000s. Sixty quakes were reported last year, the most in the 31 years since the KMA began observation. Eight already occurred this year, similar to last year's monthly average of five.
South Korea has far outdistanced North Korea both in frequency and magnitude of quakes. A total of 279 quakes have been reported on the peninsula since 1978, with 199 in the South and 80 in the North. Of the five quakes stronger than magnitude 5 since 1978, four occurred in South Korea. The South also led in terms of frequency of quakes with magnitudes between 4 and 5 with 28 of all 33.
A Unification Ministry official said, "We're checking what effects the latest quake had on North Korea alongside related agencies." Nothing has been reported yet by North Korean media, he added.
Sources in Rajin-Sonbong region in North Korea and Hunchun in China, which are near the epicenter, said they have not been informed. Kim Sung-min, the director of Free North Korea Radio said their source in Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province heard nothing about the quake.
Commenting on rumors that it was an artificial earthquake caused by a nuclear test, a South Korean government official said, "It would be realistically impossible for them to have dug 562 km down. Chances that it was caused by a nuclear test are extremely slim." He said it was also unlikely that the North would conduct a test in a place close to the border plus the quake was too strong to be caused by an explosion.
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