Whenever I see headlines like this about today's minor quake near New York, it reminds me that the East Coast of the United States is due for a substantial earthquake. In 1989 I did a story about the chances of a "big one" hitting the East. But there's been nothing big in modern times.
New York City is surrounded by fault lines and a West Coast style quake would send tall buildings tumbling into the rivers because they're on filled land, which geologists told me will mix with river water and become like Jell-O.
One well-known fault line crosses Manhattan from the Hudson River to the East River, running along 125th Street. Nearby, in Connecticut, there are so many tremors in one area that the Indians named it Machimoodus, the place of bad noises. Today, it's the town of Moodus. A number of ancient faults go from eastern Canada down to South Carolina.
The most well-known quake east of the Rockies was actually a cluster of quakes in 1811-1812 near New Madrid, Mo., that re-routed the Mississippi River, caused the land to roll like ocean waves, and rang church bells on the East Coast. Geologists say the ground in the eastern U.S actually transmits shockwaves better than in the West, where more frequent seismic activity has broken up the crust.
In 1989 I conducted interviews with geologists at the Weston Observatory of Boston College and MIT, which has inscribed over its entrance in Latin the verse from Psalm 104, "He looked at the Earth and it trembled." Ironically, I was flying back from Boston when I glanced at an airport TV and saw coverage of another West Coast earthquake, the Loma Prieta quake in northern California, which just happened that day.
The eastern U.S. still awaits it's "big one."