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GENTLE JOLTS STIR UP EXCITEMENT IN N.J.

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No, Lisa Crilly did not feel the earth shudder on Monday morning. But that did not stop her from trying to find out if her mother in Ringwood did.

"Everyone has been calling my mother and asking her: `Did you feel it? Did you feel it?' " said Crilly, a resident of Wanaque, the town below it in northern Passaic County. "She said she didn't, which is too bad. She wishes she did because it's a big event. We've heard about it all over the news."Forget the Blizzard of '96. In this town of 12,000 people on Monday, the natural phenomenon of choice was the Earthquake of '96 and its 1.7 Richter-scale reading. Or more accurately, the Earthquakes of '96, since there were three reported between Sunday and Monday. Though some people said they felt four. Maybe five.

It's not every day, after all, that earthquakes - no matter how small - undulate through this secluded, hilly area, much less on consecutive days, in the same part of town, and on a holiday weekend, too. No damage was reported from the quakes, but they rattled some nerves and generated plenty of talk to last until nature's next act.

People groped for comparisons. Some said they thought there had been an explosion. Carla Jeryc dropped her laundry basket when she heard a noise, thinking she was just clumsy. Ed Oppelt thought his son had fallen out of bed, or that a tree had fallen, so he went outside and looked around in vain. Others thought a water heater or furnace had burst. Some thought a car had rammed into their garage.

"I felt it! I felt it!" said Linda Poole, coming down the stairs to join her fiance, Richard Brubaker, in chatting with a reporter at their Skyline Lakes Drive home. "It was soft, very muffled, like when Mario gets `boomped' on the head in Nintendo."

When informed it was an earthquake, Poole said: "Hot stuff!"

For the record, the first earthquake hit Sunday at 8:23 (and 58 seconds) a.m., registering magnitude 1.5, in a wooded section of town known as Skyline Lakes. The second one occurred at 8:01:55 on Monday morning, registering magnitude 1.7 - or 60 percent more intense than Sunday's. And the third confirmed quake registered a low-key 0.8 around noon, like the other two in Skyline Lakes, as people were eating lunch, probably talking about the previous earthquakes.

People can usually feel earthquakes when the Richter scale registers 2 or more, said Won-Young Kim, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, in Palisades, N.Y. But the Ringwood quakes resonated because of their shallowness.