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Debbie Cooper was making homemade noodles with her granddaughters moments before the earth violently shook her home.
Her daughter and grandchildren were barely out the door before nic-nacs, cooking appliances and a TV, among other items, were flung to the floor of her home.
“Anything that was on a shelf went 0n the ground and busted in pieces,” Debbie said. “You couldn’t even walk through our house.”
Seismologists with the U.S. Department of Interior said the epicenter of the 5.8 earthquake on Nov. 6 in Cushing was in the Coopers’ front yard.
“I promise you, it was like 10 semi-tractor trailers just hit the house,” said Chris Cooper, Debbie’s husband. “I thought something blew up.”
The Coopers built their home in 2001, adding extra brick ties to ensure a sturdy exterior. Putting in the extra work was a blessing in disguise, Debbie said. The Coopers’ home has multiple cracks, walls that move and sheetrock screws that are now visible. Debbie said the consequences could have been much worse if the house wasn’t so well constructed.
“If we have another (earthquake) like we did the other night, it will be catastrophic,” Chris said, grimacing at the protruding brick exterior of his home.
For the past five years, the Coopers have felt the ground under their feet periodically move.
In September 2015, consecutive earthquakes shook the Coopers’ home, causing bathrooms mirrors to break and large cracks to develop in the walls.
The quakes became so frequent Debbie used duct tape to stabilize her bathroom mirrors against the wall instead of re-installing anchors.
Dan McNamara, a USGS research geophysicist, said Cushing became a region of interest in October 2014 after there were two magnitude 4 earthquakes that occurred near a major oil tank storage facility.
After the Nov. 6 earthquake, seismologists installed equipment on the Coopers’ property to better monitor seismic activity in the area.
“We like to record ground motion from earthquakes as close as possible to the earthquake,” McNamara said. “That helps us in modeling for future occurrences. We’re hoping to use the ground motion data to improve forecasting so wastewater injection can be managed more effectively.”
USGS predicted a 12 to 15 percent chance of damage related to earthquakes in central Oklahoma for 2016. McNamara, who works with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center, said their predictions were far exceeded and that residents should expect a similar chance of damage in the coming year.
“(The forecast) will probably be very similar for 2017 given that the activity is not slowing down at all,” he said. “In fact, it’s kind of increasing.”
In the spring, officials warned Oklahomans that wastewater wells were linked to an increase in earthquakes across the state.
After the Nov. 6 earthquake, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission announced operations at disposal wells within 6 miles of the earthquake must cease. As a result, seven disposal wells were to be shut-in.
“There’s a lot of pressure in Oklahoma to make more light of what’s going on because of the oil industry,” Debbie said. “I’m even madder than anything because they have a suspicion of what’s causing it and they should have done the regulations quicker.”
Debbie said she wants to be heard and for people to know it’s not only the historic buildings that are susceptible to earthquakes.
“They said it was just in town and that’s not true,” Debbie said. “There’s nobody on this road that wasn’t affected.”
Residents ‘stuck’ in damaged homes
Just a three-minute drive away, the Folsom home is in need of serious repair. Kevin Folsom, who has lived in Cushing for 19 years, said he didn’t take the possibility of strong earthquakes into account when he built his home more than two years ago. He said the contractors used standard building codes for his 3250-square-foot home.
“We didn’t think something like this would happen or I probably wouldn’t have even built a new home knowing this would have happened,” Folsom said.
Myriad cracks near windows, doorframes and in the ceiling are visible throughout the home. Shifting walls and crumbling brick exterior have become a nightmare for the family.
“We had a pretty substantial earthquake and now we’re sittin’ here lookin’ at a pretty good size bill possibly,” Folsom said.
He chose not to get earthquake insurance because the premiums were high and the magnitude of earthquakes in the area wasn’t substantial at the time, he said.
“It’d never pay for itself, we didn’t figure, so we chose not to do the insurance,” Folsom said.
Folsom said he is still waiting for an estimate on the total cost of repairs, but he knows it won’t be cheap. He has already started the process of repairs to prevent further problems with his home, he said.
“I can’t have water impede my house,” he said.
Some Cushing residents are faced with a tough choice when it comes to choosing whether to repair their home. Folsom said he has thought about moving, but he said he knows he might have trouble selling his home. At the same time, he can’t afford to make regular major repairs to his house if the earthquakes continue.
“Is our home value severely depreciated because of this? Possibly,” Folsom said. “Then you can’t sell it, so you’re stuck with it, you’ve got to keep dishing out money trying to keep it fixed.
“I don’t make enough money to redo my house every year. Even if I did have insurance.”
Folsom said city and state officials should do more to help residents with earthquake damage.
“If they aren’t going to make them quit fracking or doing the water injections then pay our (insurance) deductibles,” he said.
Fallin ‘should come out and take a look’
Jeremy Frazier, the Cushing assistant city manager, said city officials instructed residents to file claims with their insurance companies and established a hotline for residents to report damage. He said the reports were given to a damage assessment task force, consisting of Oklahoma Emergency Management and FEMA representatives, for further review.
Frazier said although he is aware of issues, he has not received direct complaints from residents related to how the city has handled the effects of the earthquake.
Residents said Oklahoma Emergency Management and FEMA crews had been out surveying their damage.
Frazier said politicians, such as Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, have gone to Cushing to see the earthquake aftermath. He said Lamb visited the most devastated areas, concentrating mainly on historic downtown.
Residents told the Frontier that Sen. Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater) and Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) had also been through downtown to inspect the damage.
Folsom said he believes the governor should also make an appearance in Cushing.
“If (Gov. Mary Fallin) did (declare) state of emergency, then she should come out and take a look I would think,” Folsom said.
Frazier had no comment about whether Fallin should visit the earthquake victims.
Having been the recipient of earthquakes for the last five years, Cushing residents are demanding answers.
“Why isn’t the people of Oklahoma that’s in the big offices, why aren’t they listening and doing more about it?” Debbie said. “They’re not being as active as quickly as they should be.
“I want them to find a solution. Let’s do something about it, it cannot continue.”
Folsom said he feels as though the state could be keeping secret the cause of the earthquakes. As a Cushing resident, he said he believes the state should tell the public what’s going on under their feet.
“I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life,” Folsom said. “I’m 44 years old and until the last five years I’d never felt an earthquake.
“I really feel like it’s something that’s going on in the area and they aren’t letting us know. People got lives, they live here. We don’t live in Oklahoma City away from all this, or Tulsa, we live right on top of this.
“Something’s got to happen.”