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Four of the Most Devastating Earthquakes in U.S. History

Gettyimages | David Butow
By Sharon Oliver

The earth has been groaning and moaning with earthquakes since the beginning of time. Lately, those old plates seem to be shifting a little more frequently, stirring up the old timeless question…when and where will the “big one” hit? Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are still trying to balance their footing from the ever so often movements beneath their feet. And, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) continues to warn of a 70 percent probability of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake striking the Bay Area before the year 2030.

Lest we forget, the United States stands on very shaky ground.

Charleston, South Carolina 1886

building in Charleston
Wikimedia |

Unbeknownst to many, there is a fault line just north of Charleston, SC located in the quaint city of Summerville. On Aug. 31, 1886, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake shook the coastal area near Charleston, killing 60 people and causing extensive damage to the Holy City. During the time, it was one of the largest earthquakes in North America.

Surviving walls of buildings ruined by the earthquake still stand, even after 1989’s devastating Hurricane Hugo swept through the city. According to Business Insider, the quake caused $35 billion in damage.

San Francisco, California 1906

San Francisco earthquake
Gettyimages | Arnold Genthe

Ranked as one of the most devastating of all time, the 7.8 magnitude San Francisco earthquake occurred on April 18, 1906 and spanned nearly 300 miles along the state’s notorious San Andreas fault, killing over 3,000 people. The quake lasted for nearly a minute as was felt as far inland as Nevada and as far south as Los Angeles.

Fires brought on by the earthquake destroyed almost 80 percent of the city. Damage estimated to be around $400 billion in today’s dollars.

Prince William Sound, Alaska 1964

Alaska earthquake
Gettyimages | Marka

On March 27, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake dubbed as the Good Friday earthquake or the Great Alaskan earthquake hit Prince William Sound, Alaska, which is – about 80 miles east of Anchorage and 40 miles west of Valdez. The quake caused landslides, soil liquefaction, and a tsunamis, which ripped up coastal communities and claimed the lives of about 139 residents.

Tremors lasted for as long as almost five minutes, while aftershocks continued for three weeks. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America.

Northridge, California 1994

Northridge earthquake
Gettyimages | PHOTO 24

On January 17, 1994, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the densely populated Northridge neighborhood of north Los Angeles. The quake left 125,000 people temporarily homeless, killed 60 and caused 9,000 to be injured. Strong ground motion was felt as far away as Las Vegas.

The damage was widespread. Buildings, parking lots and portions of major freeways all collapsed. Sixteen people living on the first floor of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex died when the three-story, stucco and wood structure collapsed on them.

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