Earlier this month, eerily familiar unexplained booms were heard in eastern Tennessee. While mystery booms have become a fairly common but no less anomalous phenomenon over the last few years, the location of the booms was curious given the proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a frequent home of nuclear energy research. While the nearby research facility was passed over as a possible origin for the booms, the conflicting ‘official’ explanations which have surfaced only add further intrigue to this incident.
The United States Geological Survey confirmed a small magnitude 2.1 earthquake in the area on Friday, July 3 - four days after the initial booms were reported. One resident said this second boom “felt like my house was picked up and dropped.” In the twenty-four hours that followed the July 3 event, the USGS continued to revise its report, changing the magnitude to 1.9, then 2.4, and finally back to 2.1. Finally, the USGS claimed that the boom was due to a nearby quarry blast.
However, Carl VanHoozier, Community Relations Manager for Vulcan Materials which owns the nearby quarry in Blount County, isn’t having it. VanHoozier issued a statement claiming the USGS’s story doesn’t add up:
The USGS is absolutely incorrect. There was no quarry blast today, or anytime this week. A 2.1 earthquake is pretty extreme. Our blasts are controlled and small. It's an earthquake, it's not a quarry blast.
This isn't the first time mysterious booms have perplexed Tennessee officials. Tennessee does sit on an active seismological zone, after all. If it was an earthquake, though, why all the finger pointing at quarries?
The city of Maryville, meanwhile, issued their own statement about the confusing and conflicting explanations offered in the wake of the mystery booms:
We have not found any visible evidence of a surface blast and we can confirm it was not a result of a quarry blast. Local seismographs indicate a possible earthquake. However, we do not know for sure the cause of the event. Officials from the US Geological Survey will need to make that determination.We expect to receive communication from the Emergency Management staff when the cause of the event is determined.
Emergency Management staff? Why would they need to be involved? Residents in Maryville, meanwhile, are just as confused:
Ok, big booms AGAIN in Maryville! What’s going on???
What exactly is happening in Maryville, Tennessee?