By Brooklyn Eagle
New York, NY – The last big earthquake in the New York City area, centered in New York Harbor just south of Rockaway, took place in 1884 and registered 5.2 on the Richter Scale. Another earthquake of this size can be expected and could be quite damaging, says Dr. Won-Young Kim, senior research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
And Brooklyn, resting on sediment, would shake more than Manhattan, built on solid rock. “There would be more shaking and more damage,” Dr. Kim told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.
If an earthquake of a similar magnitude were to happen today near Brooklyn, “Many chimneys would topple. Poorly maintained buildings would fall down – some buildings are falling down now even without any shaking. People would not be hit by collapsing buildings, but they would be hit by falling debris. We need to get some of these buildings fixed,” he said.
But a 5.2 is “not comparable to Haiti,” he said. “That was huge.” Haiti’s devastating earthquake measured 7.0.
Brooklyn has a different environment than Haiti, and that makes all the difference, he said. Haiti is situated near tectonic plate boundaries, while Brooklyn is inside the North American plate, far from its boundary.
“The Caribbean plate is moving to the east, while the North American plate is moving towards the west. They move about 20 mm – slightly less than an inch – every year.” The plates are sliding past each other, and the movement is not smooth, leading to jolts, he said.
While we don’t have the opportunity for a large jolt in Brooklyn, we do have small, frequent quakes of a magnitude of 2 or 3 on the Richter Scale. In 2001 alone the city experienced two quakes: one in January, measuring 2.4, and one in October, measuring 2.6. The October quake, occurring soon after Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “caused a lot of panic,” Dr. Kim said.
“People ask me, ‘Should I get earthquake insurance?’ I tell them no, earthquake insurance is expensive. Instead, use that money to fix chimneys and other things. Rather than panicky preparations, use common sense to make things better.”
Secure bookcases to the wall and make sure hanging furniture does not fall down, Dr. Kim said. “If you have antique porcelains or dishes, make sure they’re safely stored. In California, everything is anchored to the ground.”
While a small earthquake in Brooklyn may cause panic, “In California, a quake of magnitude 2 is called a micro-quake,” he added.