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earthquake

Major Earthquakes

On average about 1,000 earthquakes with intensities of 5.0 or greater are recorded each year. Great earthquakes (magnitude 8.0 or higher) occur once a year, major earthquakes (magnitude 7.0–7.9) occur 18 times a year, strong earthquakes (magnitude 6.0–6.9) 10 times a month, and moderate earthquakes (magnitude 5.0–5.9) more than twice a day. Because most of these occur under the ocean or in underpopulated areas, they pass unnoticed by all but seismologists. Moderate to strong earthquakes can cause more significant destruction if they occur closer to the earth's surface. Notable earthquakes have occurred at Lisbon, Portugal (1755); New Madrid, Mo. (1811 and 1812); Charleston, S.C. (1886); Assam, India (1897 and 1950); San Francisco (1906); Messina, Italy (1908); Gansu, China (1920); Tokyo, Japan (1923); Chile (1960); Iran (1962); S Alaska (1964); Managua, Nicaragua (1972); Guatemala (1976); Hebei, China (1976); Mexico (1985); Armenia (1988); Luzon, Philippines (1990); N Japan (1993); Kobe, Japan (1995); Izmit, Turkey (1999); central Taiwan (1999); Oaxaca state, Mexico (1999); Bam, Iran (2003); NW Sumatra, Indonesia (2004); Sichuan, China (2008); S Haiti (2010); Chile (2010); South Island, New Zealand (2010, 2011); and NE Japan (2011). The Lisbon, Chilean, Alaskan, Sumatran, and NE Japan earthquakes were accompanied by significant tsunamis.

Twelve of the twenty largest earthquakes in the United States have occurred in Alaska. Most of the largest in the continental United States have occurred in California or elsewhere along the Pacific Coast, but the three New Madrid earthquakes (1811–12) also were among the largest continental events, as was the Charleston, S.C., earthquake (1886). On Good Friday 1964, one of the most severe North American earthquakes ever recorded struck near Anchorage, Alaska, measuring 8.4 to 8.6 in magnitude. Besides elevating some 70,000 sq mi (181,300 sq km) of land and devastating several cities, it generated a tsunami that caused damage as far south as California. Other recent earthquakes that have affected the United States include the Feb., 1971, movement of the San Fernando fault near Los Angeles. It rocked the area for 10 sec, thrust parts of mountains 8 ft (2.4 m) upward, killed 64 persons, and caused damage amounting to $500 million. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake above Santa Cruz shook for 15 seconds at an magnitude of 7.1, killed 67 people, and toppled buildings and bridges. In Jan., 1994, an earthquake measuring 6.6 with its epicenter in N Los Angeles caused major damage to the city's infrastructure and left thousands homeless.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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