Could An Earthquake Hit The North Shore?
With the devastation in Japan, Patch asks how likely an earthquake is to occur on the North Shore.
The likelihood an earthquake the magnitude of the one that hit Japan could strike the North Shore is low, but experts say it could happen.
"Ironically, if there was someplace an earthquake could hit [in Massachusetts], it would be the North Shore," Peter Judge, spokesman for Massachusetts Emergency Management said. MEMA is the 24/7 reporting center for earthquakes across New England. The data is then given to the Weston Observatory at Boston College for analysis.
"The North Shore is considered a 'moderate earthquake site,'" Judge said.
Judge pointed to the Cape Ann earthquake of 1755, which registered a 6.0 in magnitude.
"If that occurred today, there would be tens of billions of dollars of damages," Judge said.
a history of quakes
According to the Annals of Salem, Volume 2 (1849), by Joseph Barlow Felt, several "earthquakes," rattled the North Shore and New England in the 1600s. Felt lists the quakes that rattled the area and are documented in early writings.
"The list of them relative to this place and vicinity, shows that their [earthquakes] number was much larger in proportion to the time, during the eighteenth century, than either before or since," Felt writes in the Annals.
January 26, 1663, an earthquake is described as hitting Salem and "shook much for near a quarter of an hour," writings say. "The same night, another less than the former. These were succeeded by one of next Feb. 5, which was followed by others in July."
Early writings by John Winthrop cited by Felt in the Annals describe an earthquake in 1638 that reportedly, "shook the boats in the harbor."
A list includes April 3, 1668 and says a heavy shock lasted two minutes; on June 16, 1705, there was a "shock throughout the province;" and on October 29, 1727, an earthquake occurred at 10:40 p.m. and extended southward to Phillidelphia, according to Felt.
On August 2, 1739, the Boston Weekly News Letter described an earthquake that occurred the week before:
"Last Lord's Day, between 10 and 11 o'clock in the forenoon, we were surprised with a violent shock of an earthquake, attended with a loud rumbling noise whereby people were put into a very great consternation, and many who were attending divine worship ran out into the streets, fearing the houses would fall upon them."
Tumbled chimney and fences are described and the newsletter said, "several places in the county were tumbled down by it."
But the earthquake activity in the 1600s and early 1700s was nothing compared to the Cape Ann Earthquake in 1755.
Salem's Dr. Holyoke's diary writings described the earthquake as "the greatest earthquake than has ever been known in this country."
"Chimneys toppled from roofs, steeples parted from churches, and gables crumbled from building fronts and shattered on the lanes below."
At the time, the people of Salem believed God was angry at them for their sins and to prevent further destruction; the governor at the time sent a proclamation that the county must fast to appease God.
Although after the earthquake in 1755, no large earthquakes were recorded, Felt lists smaller earthquakes in 1766, 1801 and 1817.
A Worst Case Scenario
Judge pointed to less stringent building codes on the East Coast as a reason wide-spread destruction would be anticipated in an earthquake here.
"We look at it as an earthquake is the least likely to happen [in Massachusetts], but [it would be the] most destructive worst case scenario," Judge said.
Judge noted the old construction in Boston and surrounding area would bring on collapses.
MEMA, which works with communities to help train for crisis response, said officials have plans involving those who run amateur radios to help in communication during an earthquake, but there is little specific earthquake training.
"All our hazard training is stuff that would come into play no matter the event," Judge said, noting an urban search and rescue crisis response team based at the Beverly Airport is trained in helping search and rescue when there are building collapses. The group may be mobilized to Japan in the coming days, Judge said.
"If an earthquake happened, it would be taking different pieces of the puzzle: opening shelters, search and rescue teams, evacuation routes," Judge said. "It's nothing you can plan specifically for - with an earthquake, you're in the middle of it before you know it."
HOW LIKELY IS IT?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, nearly 50 earthquakes strike New England each year though very few are actually felt on the surface.
While there are tremors below the surface throughout the year, here are some of the strongly felt earthquakes in the area:
|Marblehead||Aug. 25, 1846||4.3|
|Cape Ann||Nov. 18, 1755||6.0|
|Off Shore||Jan. 2, 1785||5.4|
|Boston||March 12, 1755||4.6|
|Salem||July 1, 1744||n/a|
Courtesy Northeast States Emergency Consortium