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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Earthquakes in New England

Devastating earthquakes, most recently in Haiti and in Chile, draw our sympathy and response with aide to the anguished people suffering these mysterious events, and renew our curiosity about the peculiar horror of shaking earth.

The recent earthquake in the Baja Peninsula reminds earthquake-prone areas that these natural phenomena are always a factor. New England has its own, obviously much milder, history of earthquakes. An earthquake off Cape Ann, Massachusetts was noted by future President John Adams in his diary on November 18, 1755:

We had a severe Shock of an Earthquake. It continued near four minutes. I was then at my fathers in Braintree, and awoke out of my Sleep in the midst of it. The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us. Chimnies were shatter’d by it within one mile of my fathers house.

It was fairly severe quake, and knocked the weather vane off the roof of Faneuil Hall in Boston. That month the plates under the Atlantic Ocean seemed particularly active, as earlier that month on November 1st, the city of Lisbon, Portugal was destroyed by an earthquake.

It is conjectured that the earthquake recorded in 1638 was an even bigger one, scaring the Puritans silly. Another famous diarist, John Winthrop, noted many aftershocks in the following weeks.

We’ve since had a fair scattering of smaller quakes through the late 1800s and 20th century, one of the larger probably being the January 10, 1982 quake that reached about 5.9 on the Richter Scale, followed by several days of minor aftershocks and a second quake on the 19th, reaching 4.8. Another that hit Quebec and was felt in all New England states occurred November 1988, reached 6.0 on the Richter.

During those shaky moments, diners at the Top of the Hub restaurant on Boston’s Prudential Center got as rattled as the dishes; the ceiling shook at the old Boston Garden where the Celtics were just about to play the Milwaukee Bucks; and in western Mass., the old 10-story control tower at Westover Air Reserve Base was evacuated.

Hardly the stuff of disaster such as what victims of very destructive earthquakes must endure. We wouldn’t want it any other way.


John Hayes said...

I remember those '82 earthquakes! I was living in Burlington, VT at the time & they gave a good rattle. Nothing like the Loma Prieta earthquake in 89 in San Francisco, which I also got the "opportunity" to experience first-hand, but definitely respectable!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, John. I remember those '82 quakes as well, and a few moments of my father and I looking panic-stricken into each other's faces when we both realized at the same moment that neither one of us was jostling the couch we were sitting on.

I also remember a college classmate from California who laughed at the excitement this, to him, very minor earthquake caused, as he had been through more spectacular quakes. However, when winter set in, we discovered that driving in snow gave him panic attacks. He stopped being our hero right about then.

I guess we're all just used to what we're used to.

John Hayes said...

Californians driving in snow is really scary! By the way, my various aches & pains have had me laid up, but I plan on getting your dvd in the mail on Monday!

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