Prophecy in today's headlines

Large Earthquake Could Strike New York City

The New York City area is at “substantially greater” risk of earthquakes than previously thought, scientists said Thursday.

Damage could range from minor to major, with a rare but potentially powerful event killing people and costing billions of dollars in damage.

A pattern of subtle but active faults is known to exist in the region, and now new faults have been found. The scientists say that among other things, the Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones.

The findings are detailed in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Shaky history

While earthquakes are typically thought of as a West Coast phenomenon in the nation, strong quakes do occur in the Eastern United States, just much less frequently. Importantly, the geology of the East — lots of hard rock leftover from glacial times — makes any rumbling travel a lot farther and with greater intensity from the epicenter.

A 5.0 temblor in 1737, for example, knocked down chimneys in New York City and was felt from Boston to Philadelphia. A magnitude-5.5 quake in 1884 did similar damage in a wider region around New York. Another quake in this range struck in 1783.

The new study involved an analysis of past quakes, plus 34 years of new data on temblors, most of them perceptible only by modern seismic instruments. The scientists looked at 383 earthquakes from 1677 to 2007 in a 15,000-square-mile area around New York City, using newspaper records in some cases to estimate temblor magnitudes.


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