East coast was past due for a big quake

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This article originally appeared in the February 16 edition of Metro New York. We are reprinting it in light of the August 23 east coast earthquake.

Hold on tight! New York is past due for a significant earthquake, warns a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The last big quake to hit New York City was a 5.3-magnitude tremor in 1884 that happened at sea in between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook. While no one was killed, buildings were damaged.

Based on that, Won-Young Kim, who runs the seismographic network for the entire Northeast at the Earth Observatory, said New York City is due for another big quake about every 100 years — but an exact timeline is hard to pin down.

“It can happen anytime soon,” said Kim. If it happened tomorrow, he added, “I would not be surprised. We can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

To study potential earthquake damage to the city, Columbia scientists are expanding their seismometer network — they maintain six throughout the five boroughs — at New York City landmarks. This summer, Kim plans to place a seismometer in the arch at Washington Square Park, and another one in Bryant Park.

What would it feel like?

Magnitude 6 and 7 earthquakes are the most catastrophic; New York City has never seen one.

In a magnitude 5 earthquake, Manhattan’s skyscrapers would not fall down, but brick buildings and chimneys could topple. “Today, with so many more buildings and people … we’d see billions in damage,” said John Armbruster, a seismologist who worked alongside Kim at the Earth Observatory. “People would probably be killed.”

Web extra: Check out where else seismometers are buried throughout the city – you may be surprised! Plus, what the collapse of the WTC towers registered on the Richter scale


More on the earthquake:

How New York reacted

How Boston reacted

How Philadelphia reacted

The best tweets from the quake’s aftermath


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