Sunday, October 2, 2011

Long Island's Earthquakes and Hurricanes -: a historical perspective

When the East Coast was rattled by an earthquake on August 23 and then buffeted by Hurricane Irene, later the same week, even notoriously unshakable New Yorkers noticed.

Ironically, it was not the first time that Long Island has felt the tremor of an earthquake followed by a hurricane.  According to the United States Geological Survey’s website, a 5.6 quake centered in  Messina, New York on September 4, 1944 was felt as far away as Wisconsin.  It was followed ten days later by what is called the Great Atlantic Hurricane, which hit Long Island as a Category 3 storm.

The earliest official record of an earthquake affecting Long Island was recorded in 1737. In New York City, the epicenter, chimneys toppled and it was felt as far away as Boston and Philadelphia.

Last November 30 (2010), the U.S. Geological Survey measured a 3.9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Southampton.  If you missed that one, it was probably because the epicenter was about 4 miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

 According to a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, the East Coast may be seismically active, but most tremors are not felt by humans unless they are over 3 on the Richter scale. The August 23rd quake, measuring 5.8 with its epicenter in Virginia, was felt as far south as North Carolina, as far north as Buffalo and Boston, and as far west as Detroit.

A similar effect happened on August 10, 1884 when (estimated to be 5.5 in the era before the Richter scale was developed)  a severe earthquake was felt along the Atlantic Coast from sourthern Maine to central Virginia and westward to Cleveland, Ohio.  According to the U.S.G.S.:
"Chimneys were knocked down and walls were cracked in several states, including  Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. ..Property damage was severe at Amityville and Jamaica, New York, where several chimneys were "overturned" and large cracks formed in walls."
The New York Times reported On August 14, 1884:
"The Court House at Far Rockaway was shaken for several seconds, and the glasses and crockery on the hotel tables rattled and some fell over, causing the guests to start from their seats. ...A few minutes later the big hotel at Rockaway Beach was shaken, the doors and windows rattling loud enough to be heard at a considerable distance. "
Three years later, on March 4, 1887, the Times mentions a more subtle series of vibrations which were reported as far east as Babylon and  rattled the Marine Observatory at Fire Island.

"The Postmaster at Far Rockaway says there were two separate shocks at that village. ..The only other place reported as feeling the shock is Rockaway Beach. Seperintendent (s9c) W.E. Burroughs of the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Beach Railroad says that he and others in the station noticed vibrations of the building and rattling of the windows, which lasted for several seconds..."

Two strong vibrations rocked Astoria in March of 1893 and were felt  throughout the center of Long Island.  While no damage was done during this midnight quake, residents of Long Island City through that an explosion at nearby oil refineries might have caused the tremor, which rattled window panes and broke crockery and glassware. (Brooklyn Eagle, March 8, 1893, p. 10.)  Mr. Edmund J. Tinsdale, of New York City, recounted the effect the the earthquake had on his cat:

"Mr. Tinsdale was startled.  His big black cat, which had been lying quietly on the floor, was also startled.  She jumped up, with her hair standing on end and tail erect.  Then she yowled loudly and executed a series of capers.  Feeling no forther shook, Mr. Tinsdale got over being startled. But the cat was nervous for two hours." (The New York Times, March 9, 1893, p.8)

The Brooklyn Eagle of  September 2, 1895, reads "Long Island Terrorized" as the Island was shaken in its sleep, with tremors felt from Delaware to Montauk.

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