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4.3 quake shakes tiny, tremor-plagued Arkansas town

By Ben Smith, CNN
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Series of small quakes rattle Arkansas
  • Guy, Arkansas, is hit by a 4.3 earthquake
  • The latest shock is one of 700 to rattle the town since September
  • Police chief: People are afraid and thinking of moving

(CNN) -- When Mark Barrett moved to Guy, Arkansas, he had no idea the tiny town of less than 300 people was nearly as rocking as the Southern California community he'd left behind.

Six years and hundreds of seismic events later, Barrett says he's feeling it more and more.

Since September, seismologists have recorded 700 temblors in the area. The largest, a 4.3-magnitude quake, shook the town at 2:13 a.m. Friday.

The tremors appear to be rumbling through town with greater frequency.

The Arkansas Geological Survey has recorded 50 quakes in and around Guy since Sunday. That includes Friday morning's 4.3 window-rattler and three other lesser quakes that occurred within 20 minutes of each other around 11 a.m.

Guy Police Chief David Martini said the 4.3 quake, which lasted about five seconds, didn't result in injuries or cause any serious damage.

"Somebody's flat-screen TV fell off the wall and smashed," he said.

The cause of the quakes is a source of debate. Some critics blame them on increased natural gas drilling, but the state geological survey has ruled that out. However, experts are investigating the possible effect of "salt water disposal wells."

"There is already naturally occurring seismic activity in the area," said Lawrence Bengal, director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission. "The question is whether this is circumstantial, or is there a connection between the disposal wells and the occurring quakes?"

Salt disposal wells are created when drilling waste is injected back into the earth.

In December, the commission imposed a temporary ban on new permits for disposal wells. The following month, the board extended the moratorium until July 28, pending an investigation.

In January, Arkansas became one of the few states to require natural gas companies to divulge what chemicals they use to create "fracking fluid" for high-pressure drilling, according to the commission.

Barrett said he didn't feel Friday's 4.3 quake, though his wife did. However, Barrett said the 4.0 quake that struck Thursday morning "actually woke me up."

He also felt the half dozen lesser tremors that shook his house when he got home from work that night.

"It's a different feel for me," Barrett said. "California is a more rolling type quake. The ones that we experience here are a little bit more rumbling, sometimes ending with a strong jolt that lasts for a fraction of a second to a second."

"This is a pretty active area," he said. "They say that it's an area that, very probably, if it was going to have a big one, it would be one of these days soon."

Martini said seismologists have assured him there's no evidence that the area is in imminent danger of a massive earthquake.

That doesn't placate some residents, the police chief acknowledged.

"I've actually had people come out and say, 'I'm moving out of here. I'm afraid,'" he said.

Martini said that, until the most recent quakes, "they've felt like a truck running into a building." Now, he said, "they feel more rolling."

Guy, which is 50 miles from Little Rock, is part of the New Madrid seismic area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

According to the USGS Earthquake Information Bulletin, a December 16, 1811, earthquake shook the Mississippi River Valley so severely that it woke sleepers as far away as Norfolk, Virginia.

That quake was the first in a series of strong shocks that continued through 1817. The quakes killed fish, cut fissures across farmland that rendered the fields barren and created what is now known as Lake St. Francis in Arkansas and the 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee..

The quakes even spawned reverse waves on the Mississippi River, causing the river to appear to flow backward.

Barrett, who owns a stone manufacturing company, said he might have thought twice about moving in 2004 had he known the ground might not be that much firmer in Guy than it is in Orange County.

Nevertheless, Barrett said he doesn't think his neighbors are as worried as Martini suggests.

"I don't see anybody freaking out," he said. "I don't think anybody's thinking the world is about to end."

CNN's Sarah Hoye and Divina Mims contributed to this report.