It was a fittingly strange beginning to a day dated 4/20. At 6:50 a.m., an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale shook New England and southeastern Canada. Although quakes with magnitudes in the five range are fairly gentle by global standards, this one came as quite a shock to residents of the region, and particularly those of Clinton County, N.Y., where the quake’s epicenter was located. There were no reported injuries, but Clinton County was forced to declare a state of emergency due to damage to buildings and roads. N.Y. State Route 9 was closed on Saturday due to significant damage.
There was little damage in sleepy Williamstown, but those awake at the time were treated to a shaking not felt in New England since 1983, when another quake centered in upstate N.Y. registered in the low fives on the Richter scale. Some students even reported being shaken awake by the quake’s force.
While there are no large, active faults in the northeast comparable, for example, to California’s San Andreas Fault, there are many ancient, brittle faults buried deep beneath the surface. Most, according to Paul Karabinos, professor of geosciences, are still planes of weakness in the earth’s crust.
“The crust is readjusting itself on planes of weakness,” said Karabinos. “There are these freaky earthquakes in the northeast, but they are infrequent and hard to predict.”
Clockwise from top left: damage to a road in upstate N.Y.; visible cracks opened in the ground near the quake’s epicenter; a crumbling bell tower in Clinton County; the quake’s epicenter, marked by the large star.