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Famous Earthquakes in History

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Devastating Earthquakes in the United States

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Have you ever wondered about historical earthquakes that quite literally shook the world? We jump into weather history with three of the most famous (or rather infamous) earthquakes in the United States.

Are you a weather history buff? You won’t want to miss our listing of the Worst Hurricanes in American History.

Alaska’s “Good Friday” Earthquake

At 10:36 p.m., March 27, 1964, one hour and ten minutes after the full of the moon which was crossing the Equator from the northern hemisphere to the southern (a time of heavy earthquake probability), Anchorage and other cities of Alaska experienced a temblor of from 8.2 to 8.7 magnitude. The known death toll was 129 lives—damage of some five hundred millions of dollars.

An accompanying tsunami smashed cities and towns rimming the Gulf of Alaska and on Kodiak Island. The seismic waves rushed on to swallow up as many more individuals along the Pacific Coast from Canada to Southern California. In Crescent City, California alone, ten died, and fifty were missing. Tidal wave warnings went up, also, in Japan and Hawaii.

The Three–State Quake of 1959

A mountain toppled, a new lake was made, 9 died, 19 missing, 15 injured, 250 vacationists barely escaped disaster, geysers were choked off while others were given new life—thus did the night of August 17, 1959, go out, and the morning of the 18th come in. The main shock of this quake occurred very near the junction of Montana’s Routes 187 and 191, a few miles south of the Northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.

The main shock started an avalanche of some 80 million tons of rock from one side of the Madison River Valley. Most of the quake’s victims were killed because of this rock slide. It also created a new lake called Earthquake Lake, which extends for about 5 miles up the Madison River and is over 100 feet deep.

This earthquake ranks as one of the six strongest to hit the continental U.S.

The Great Quake of 1886 at Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, South Carolina’s memorable Tuesday, August 31, 1886, began reasonably calm with a warm, still sunny morning. The evening failed to cool, the mellow brick walls retaining the day’s heat. The Ashley and Cooper Rivers were dead calm, mirroring the constellations in the clear sky. Dance music drifted from the pavilion on James Island, where young people socialized. The heat had tired the aged, and they were either in bed or about to retire.

At 9:51 p.m., 12 miles below the surface and 16 miles west of New York City, the earth ruptured in a mountain system extending to within a few miles west of New York City. With vibrations racing 3 miles a second, shock waves sped out over 2,800,000 square miles.

The quake lasted in Charleston for 3 days. A total of 17 shocks had destroyed over 100 buildings, 90% of brick structures, and caused about $5 million to $6 million in damage nationally. Astonishingly, only 40 people died; 27 were from Charleston.

Want to know about more famous earthquakes? Read our piece about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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