Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Opinion

November 7, 2013

A whole lot of shaking going on

I’ve been thinking about earthquakes. There were a couple late last year. The first was a 4.5 on the Richter scale, causing our dogs to bark and us to bolt from our chairs. We felt the house move. The second quake was smaller, but a bathroom cabinet fell from our wall.

My wife, who is from Berkeley, Calif., has experienced numerous earthquakes, the most famous being the “World Series” quake in 1989, which struck as the game was beginning in San Francisco. Fear was in the announcers’ voices as the stadium shook. The quake measured 6.9, but was especially dangerous because of its side-to-side motion. My wife was driving on a freeway and says that it was like being hit by ocean waves from opposite sides at the same time. She thought she’d lost a wheel, and when she pulled over to check, a pickup drove by and someone yelled, “It’s an earthquake, you idiot.” Fifty-seven people were killed.

The Richter scale is difficult for me to figure out. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 4.5 can be recorded by seismographs (earthquake-measuring instruments) around the world. Its website says, “Each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured amplitude …” The explanation gets confusing from there, so let me put it this way: each whole number is wicked worse than the preceding whole number.

Earthquakes aren’t rare here. In fact, in geologic time, we live in a place where earthquakes are common. We can expect a moderate to strong one because of our past history. In 1638 and again in 1663, there were major earthquakes. The first one struck before Andover was settled. However, early settlors in Newbury were terrified by the four-minute quake. It knocked them down, scared their farm animals and caused widespread destruction. Settlors probably had second thoughts about their recent move to the New World. The 1663 quake was more destructive because of its size — Canada to Mexico — and intensity. It destroyed or damaged almost every Boston building.

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