, Salem, MA


October 19, 2012

Our view: Surviving the 'great' quake of '12

It was just after 7 p.m. Tuesday when, across New England, the ground began to shake.

Residents all across the North Shore felt the movement — a more violent, more prolonged shaking than that we feel when a big tractor-trailer rolls down the street.

No sooner had we in the newsroom begun to realize what had happened than did the phones start to ring. Readers were calling in to see if others had experienced what they had.

Earthquake? Here in New England?

It turns out that lesser quakes are fairly common in these parts. But one the size of the 4.0 on the Richter scale temblor that hit Tuesday night is more rare. According to a geologist interviewed by The Associated Press, the quake was the biggest in New England since a magnitude-4.2 tremor in October 2006 hit Maine’s Mount Desert Island.

Unlike California, where bigger quakes are common, New England is far from continental plate boundaries. The nearest are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and in the Caribbean. But here the bedrock is older and easier to fracture. Geologists say that means a quake here is felt over a wider area that one of the same size in California.

Fortunately, there have been no reports of injuries or significant damage from the earthquake, so it’s easier to laugh. A headline in the Los Angeles Times read: “You call that an earthquake? Maine has 4.0 shaker, is fine.”

There have been larger earthquakes in New England’s history, and they have been devastating. The most famous was a quake estimated at 6.0 to 6.3 off the coast of Cape Ann in 1755. The shaking destroyed several buildings in Boston and was felt as far away as South Carolina.

Yes, we are fine — and fortunate. Many who felt the shaking of the 4.0 earthquake Tuesday are not keen to experience anything significantly larger.

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