Posted: 20 April 2010 1214 hrs
PERTH : The biggest earthquake in 50 years struck Western Australia's Goldfields region on Tuesday, damaging buildings and closing the massive "Super Pit" gold mine, officials said.
Hundreds of workers were evacuated from the vast open-cast facility, the area's biggest employer, and the underground Mount Charlotte operation after the 5.0-magnitude quake hit just outside the Kalgoorlie-Boulder mining towns.
But nobody was reported hurt in the quake, which left some streets littered with bricks from damaged buildings and rattled residents at around 8:17 am (0017 GMT).
"It was going for about a good 20 seconds and we've felt several aftershocks, so we might not be in the clear yet," Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper journalist Nick Rynne told Sky News.
Police cordoned off parts of Boulder, a remote town about 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Perth, and mine operator KCGM said Super Pit and Mount Charlotte would be closed for several hours.
"The evacuation is purely a precautionary measure," a spokeswoman told AFP. "We haven't sustained any damage and all personnel are safe.
"But we do have our geotechnical team there at the moment, assessing the situation."
Emergency officials were unable immediately to confirm reports that schools and a hospital were evacuated and that a damaged house caught fire after the earthquake.
"If there was structural damage to a building the people inside would
probably have been brought out," a Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) spokesman said.
Residents also said holes had appeared in some roads. The worst-hit buildings were historic structures in the centre of Boulder, which sprang up in the wake of Australia's 1800s Gold Rush.
"We're living in this big mining area. There's a big hole here and there's underground tunnels everywhere," local resident Annie Fowler told Sky.
A spokesman for Geoscience Australia said the quake, at a shallow depth of just 10 kilometres (six miles), was the worst seen in the remote region for at least half-a-century.
"This is quite a large earthquake for Australia and a shallow, potentially damaging, earthquake," he said. "It's the largest event in this area in the last 50 years."
USGS measured the quake at 5.2 but Geoscience Australia pitched it as a magnitude 5.0 and said it would have been felt within a 168 kilometre radius.