Cupboards and drawers in Crystal Oswald's house shake. Vibrations wake Donna Wiersgalla's 3-year-old daughter three or four times a night. A few doors down, Bailey Conklin, 13, removed rattling pictures from her bedroom wall.
That's life these days on 1st Avenue N. in Newport, where a phenomenon that nobody can explain troubles residents enough that they're seeking help from city officials and comparing notes in one another's kitchens.
At least eight households have reported intermittent and random shaking, and thus far public officials have been unable to find a cause.
"It wouldn't be so bad if someone could give me some answers," said Oswald, whose roommate has threatened to move out because of the shaking. "It's becoming a big pain, especially at night. It feels like there's a helicopter going over your house and I open the door and there's nothing."
The affected residents live next to a park in the northwest corner of Newport, a Washington County city of about 3,700 near the Mississippi River. Industries and highways surround the neighborhood, but it's unclear whether any of them -- including the nearby Wakota Bridge on Interstate 494 -- have anything to do with the mysterious vibrations that are beginning to feel like a slow form of torture to residents.
"I've never felt this before," said Wiersgalla, who has lived in the same house all of her 37 years. "I think we all thought it was kind of crazy, so we didn't say anything for a while."
100 trains not to blame
Neighbors discount freight trains as the culprits, even though they rumble past the neighborhood more than 100 times a day, as they've done for years. They can't think of any industry that's new or different except the bridge, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation said that nobody works on the construction in the evenings or overnight.
Corb Hopkins, the neighborhood mail carrier and a City Council member, said he hasn't felt the vibrations down the street from where he lives, but doesn't doubt it exists.
"Down here in Newport we have very little topsoil and everything sits on limestone," he said. "We're all sitting on the same slab of rock. If there's vibration, it's going to carry."
But Val Chandler, a geophysicist with the Minnesota Geological Survey, said bedrock vibrations don't carry far. "The most likely culprit would be heavy machinery activity nearby," he said. "It's not very likely that it's a natural earthquake, or somebody would recognize it as such."
Dottie Conklin, Bailey's mother, has felt the vibrations for about a month. She has watched bottled water shake on her kitchen table while her neighbor has told her that his windows rattle.
Most of the houses along 1st Avenue N. were built in the 1960s or 1970s, and in many cases, residents have lived there long enough to recognize anything out of the ordinary -- until now.
"It's kind of befuddling," said Chandler, who is more inclined to think that the vibrations come from bedrock when caverns collapse deep below the surface or when a big new dam is dug. Just why residents of one block in Newport feel the vibrations and others don't deepens the mystery, he said.
A bulk fuel plant, a frozen-foods storage company and a garbage recycling firm that's been operating for 21 years surround the neighborhood, Hopkins said, but he doubts that they're doing anything new that would cause vibrations. Newport's public works department couldn't find the source of the problem either. Hopkins recognizes that the shaking annoys residents, but doesn't know what the city should do next.
Wiersgalla said that her husband wants to move. She said the vibrations are wearing down her family -- she logs the times when it rouses her daughter at night -- but she doesn't want to leave.
"As long as I don't wake up some morning and find my house bouncing in the Mississippi River, I'll be all right," she said.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432