From: Reuters
Published February 21, 2008 07:48 AM

Norway's biggest quake hits Svalbard archipelago

By Aasa Christine Stoltz

OSLO (Reuters) - An earthquake of 6.2 magnitude -- the biggest in Norwegian history -- jolted the thinly populated Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic on Wednesday night, the Norsar seismic research institute said on Thursday.

No one was hurt by the quake and no damage has been reported in the islands, about 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, reports said.

"This is the biggest earthquake on Norwegian territory in history," the institute said in a statement, adding that the quake occurred at sea, about 10 km (6 miles) below the surface.

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Anne-Karin Bekken, one of roughly 2,000 residents of the archipelago's main town Longyearbyen, said she and her boyfriend were jolted awake by the earthquake.

"We woke up and everything was shaking. It was a bit scary," she told Reuters over the telephone.

"Before I realized what it was, it was over. I thought it was the blizzard blowing the house into pieces," said Bekken, a consultant at the local coal mine.

Norsar said Svalbard registered several aftershocks, and predicted there would be more.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and other leaders will be in Svalbard next week for the official opening of a seed vault which will store frozen crop seeds from around the world in case crops are wiped out by a future disaster.

Norsar seismologist Johannes Schweitzer said it may take a few days for aftershocks to stop but that they should not pose any risk to next week's ceremonies, which will take place in the darkness of the Arctic winter near Longyearbyen.

Schweitzer said the quake took place in an area where several smaller quakes had occurred in past years and said nothing indicated Wednesday's jolt was a precursor to heavier seismic activity in the region.

The quake was reported at 9:46 p.m. EST and its epicenter was about 140 km (85 miles) southeast of Longyearbyen.

The last big earthquake struck the archipelago, which is roughly the size of Ireland, on January 18, 1976, and measured 5.5 on the Richter scale, the research institute said.

Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard, which lies north of mainland Europe and east of Greenland, in the Arctic Ocean.

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa; editing by Caroline Drees)

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