North Queensland could have experienced a bigger natural disaster than Newcastle suffered in 1989 if the epicentre of an earthquake in the Whitsundays had been on land, according to a senior seismologist.
Geoscience Australia recorded a magnitude 5.8 earthquake at 2.30pm and a further six aftershocks, including one of a 4.0 magnitude, at 3.30pm off the coast of Bowen on August 11.
Following the event the government closed three schools and Cairns airport shut down temporarily.
Workers and members at Bowen Golf Club, situated on the shoreline in northern Queensland, feared a tsunami when the clubhouse “shook violently”.
Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Jonathan Bathgate says it was fortunate the quake’s epicentre was at sea because the magnitude of the earthquake was bigger than the Newcastle earthquake when 13 people were killed and more than 150 injured.
“It was bigger than the Newcastle earthquake so in comparison to that, it certainly had the potential to do some significant damage,” Mr Bathgate said.
The earthquake follows a magnitude 4.4 earthquake off the coast of Bundaberg, 800km south of Bowen, on Saturday.
Mr Bathgate said the magnitude of the earthquake was significant but it wasn’t the biggest in recent years in Australia.
“We had an earthquake in Northern Territory earlier which was 6.1 and that was the largest earthquake in 20 years and it has certainly been an active 12 months for earthquakes in Australia.”
Bowen Golf Club employee Margaret Need said everyone was wondering what was happening when the two-storey timber clubhouse started shaking.
“It was only for a few seconds and we were more concerned about the ocean,” Ms Need said.
“If the ocean started sucking out we would have started running because we are right on the beachfront. We just watched that for a bit to see if there was any change in the water. The club shook violently and it was very scary.”
Mr Bathgate said earthquakes have to be “significantly” larger than Thursday’s magnitude to be of risk of generating tsunami.
Councillor for the Bowen division Mike Bruckner said he was confident no infrastructure had been damaged,
He said it had been widely felt with family and friends as far away as Mackay, 200km south of Bowen, calling to say they had experienced an earthquake.
“We’ve got staff out looking at reservoirs, infrastructure and sewerage treatment and at this stage no major damage,” he said.