The Top 5 Biggest East Coast Earthquakes

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Talk about a topical post – hardy har.  The east coast of the United States was all shook up by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, and it made us wonder – was that a “big one,” or not?  Luckily, there’s a little something called the internet to help us answer that question.  Here are the 5 biggest earthquakes to hit the east coast of the US – in smallest to largest order.

5. 1940 – Central New Hampshire

1940 nh earthquake

December 20, 1940, the biggest earthquake to hit New Hampshire hit her at a 5.5 magnitude.  The earthquake was felt in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.  It’s sometimes known as the New York earthquake, but the epicenter was actually in New Hampshire, in the Ossipee Mountains, the remnants of an ancient volcanic ring.  The earthquake was felt to some degree from places even further away, like Montreal, Quebec, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Rhode Island.  In New Hampshire, some chimneys were knocked loose, wells were damaged, and pipes and walls busted.  There were aftershocks for months.

4. 2011 – Mineral, Virginia

2011 VA earthquake

Yep, this is the one that just happened. With an epicenter in Mineral, VA, this 5.8 M earthquake rocked the East Coast on August 23, 2011 at 1:51 PM. The largest earthquake in the US east of the Rockies since 1897 (hold your horses, you’re about the hear about that one), the quake damaged some monuments in D.C., and caused over $100 million dollars in damage.  The tremors from the earthquake were felt as far north as Quebec City and as far south as Ocala, FL.  Several buildings near the epicenter were damaged, including a high school, two churches, and a Masonic Lodge.  Equal opportunity earthquake, that.  Fun fact:  the word “earthquake” was included in the status updates of over three million Facebook users within four short minutes.  Twitter blew up, as well, with 5,500 tweets per second (tps – lol) going out, beating out the death of bin Laden and matching the tps of the 2011 tsunami.

3. 1897 – Giles County, VA

giles county

A bad day for chimneys, May 31, 1897 saw a 5.9 M earthquake shake the Virginia Seismic Zone in Giles County.  Reports from that time indicate that people reported seeing cracks in the earth, but the reports were deemed “fictitious.”  True, however, is the information that many a chimney crumbled, and most brick buildings suffered a lot of, if not total, damage.  A bank and a Masonic Lodge swayed around a lot (are we seeing a pattern here?) and everybody was really scared.  Unlike the 2011 earthquake, which saw people grabbing their cell phones to tweet “Hey!  An Earthquake!” as fast as possible.

2. 1755 – Cape Ann, MA


This was the “big one” for Massachusetts, registering between 6.0 and 6.3 on the Richter scale.  It happened on November 18, 1755 at 4:30 AM and don’t think for a second that the people in Massachusetts at the time took that lightly.  They were sure they were being punished by God, and held special church services and civic-mandated fasting days to repent.  A bunch of famous sermons were written as a result of this earthquake, including Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure by Thomas Prince.   If the same earthquake were to happen today, it would probably cause about $5 billion in damage and kill lots and lots of people.  At the time, however, it broke a lot of chimneys and steeples.

1. 1886 – Charleston, SC

charleston earthquake

On August 31, 1886, a 7.3 M earthquake hit Charleston, SC and caused 60-110 casualties.  It was an intraplate earthquake that caused $6 million dollars in damage in 1886.  If you think about that now, that’s, like, almost $150 million.  This earthquake is famous to earthquake people because they think it was the result of Pangaea breaking up.  Basically, when that “happened,” it caused fault lines, and this earthquake is thought to have happened on those fault lines.  The tremors were felt as far north as Boston, Chicago to the northwest, New Orleans to the west, Cuba to the south, and east to Bermuda.

So there you have it.

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