Page last updated at 17:55 GMT, Saturday, 28 April 2007 18:55 UK

'We heard a massive rumble'

By Jon Kelly
BBC News, Folkestone

Fallen masonry on street
The earthquake damaged several homes in Folkestone
In their pyjamas and dressing gowns, the residents of several Folkestone streets ventured outside trying to work out what had hit them.

With smashed chimney pots littering their roads and fresh cracks scarring their brickwork, neighbours were trying to make sense of what was going on.

Some thought a lorry must have collided with their homes. Others reasoned that a bomb had struck the nearby Eurostar link, or that there had been an accident at a local power station.

But one possibility seemed far too remote. Surely there was no way this could have been an earthquake. Not here, not in Folkestone, on a sunny Saturday morning.

Carpenter Terry Croker, 30, was in bed with wife Lucy and their four-week-old daughter Ruby when the tremor began.

"Everything was quiet when all of a sudden, the walls started to vibrate," he recalls.

Simon Meade
I thought to myself, 'Earthquakes happen in San Francisco. They don't happen in Folkestone'
Simon Meade

"Then I heard this massive rumble, and all this soot and rubble started to pour out of the chimney into the fireplace in our room.

"My instinct was just to get the baby away from the house, and when we spilled out onto the street with everyone else I couldn't work out what on earth was going on."

Across the street, 40-year-old plasterer Simon Meade had just ushered his girlfriend's children outdoors to safety when the debate began.

He says: "Everyone was standing about chatting. It was almost like a street party.

"Because the electricity had gone and the mobile phone networks were jammed, nobody knew what was going on.

"I suspected a gas explosion, but other people were suggesting a terrorist attack.

"Then someone got into their car and switched on the radio. The newsreader was saying it was an earthquake.

"I thought to myself, 'Earthquakes happen in San Francisco. They don't happen in Folkestone.'"

Sharen Dobson
I've sent the kids away tonight to stay with family, but I've no idea whether it's safe to sleep here myself
Sharen Dobson

But the community quickly proved it was about much more than gossip and speculation. A delegation quickly went to check 86-year-old widow Michelle Couchman was all right.

"I'd been in the kitchen making a cup of tea when I felt shaking. I heard a cabinet full of china upstairs tipping over, and I fell to the ground," she remembers.

"But then some neighbours came in to see how I was, and they helped me back up.

"A group of local children came and made me a cup of tea and made sure I was fine - they were lovely.

"I don't take fright easily. My husband experienced an earthquake in the Middle East when he was in the RAF, so it wasn't anything I wasn't prepared for."

After the excitement had died down, however, the mundane business of clearing up the mess took over.

Reverberations

Care assistant Sharen Dobson, 37, stands outside her home at the epicentre of the quake on Black Bull Road, surveying the cracks gouged deep into plasterwork.

She sighs: "I've sent the kids away tonight to stay with family, but I've no idea whether it's safe to sleep here myself.

"We've got some builders coming round tomorrow and we'll find out then exactly what the damage is.

"There are big cracks outside the house as well as in most of the rooms.

"I can't see onto the roof, but I'm just praying that it's nothing too serious."

The earthquake might only have lasted seconds.

But its reverberations will be felt around Folkestone for a long time to come.



video and audio news
Footage from the areas affected by the quake



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