Melbourne and large areas of Victoria were rocked last night by the state's biggest earthquake in more than a century.
The magnitude 5.3 quake struck at 8.53pm (10.53pm NZT). It rattled buildings and frightened residents from Gippsland to the western district, and almost as far north as the NSW border.
But it was not as strong as the 5.6 quake that devastated central Newcastle in 1989, and there were no immediate reports of serious property damage or injury.
US seismologists initially reported a 5.2 quake near Melbourne. GeoScience Australia later measured it at 5.5, and then revised it down to 5.3 — still making it one of the larger mainland Australian quakes recorded in decades.
The epicentre was 10 kilometres south-west of Moe in the Latrobe Valley, and 9.9 kilometres underground. People reported feeling the ground shaking for between 15 and 60 seconds.
Moe Hotel chef David Warner, 22, was cleaning the kitchen when the quake struck. "I just heard this big bang and I thought it was a crane falling on the roof," he said.
"Honestly I feared for my life for a second there, I thought the roof was collapsing. I just bolted for the door because I thought that was the end," Mr Warner said. "About half the venue ran out the front in a bit of a panic."
Elwood resident Andrew Chapman, who was in Christchurch for the devastating September 2010 earthquake, said he felt two significant waves of shaking lasting up to a minute. "Our house was seriously swaying as we bolted outside," he said.
"It was very unexpected . . . we left Christchurch because we didn't want to be in an earthquake zone and Melbourne was a safe place to go to," he said.
"We're feeling very unnevered because I suppose it's reignited all those anxieties and feelings from when we lived in Christchurch."
The federal minister responsible for insurance, Bill Shorten, last night urged people to make safety their first priority after the quake. “This is the biggest earthquake to hit Victoria for over 109 years," he said.
"It will take some days to determine the full extent of damage. In the meantime, peoples' personal safety is always the first priority."
A State Emergency Service spokesman said there was no immediate reports of major damage. But it was possible minor building damage had occurred in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley. "We know that there has been several aftershocks," the spokesman said.
By late last night the SES had received 35 callouts in the Moe area.
"We've had a lot of calls but no one is reporting any damage or injuries at this stage," reported
Moe police constable Chris Hand.
"It was a decent-size rumble, the biggest I've ever felt."
In Melbourne, residents reported feeling the quake all over the metropolitan area — from the Dandenongs in the east to Bentleigh in the south-east, Pascoe Vale in the west and through the inner city.
The GeoScience Australia website crashed as people flocked online to find out what happened.
People reported feeling the tremor in country areas including Bright, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Euroa, Shepparton and Echuca.
- The Age