Apr 05, 2024

Rare earthquake centered near New York City rattles the Northeast

Posted Apr 05, 2024 3:00 PM
Quake centered near Lebanon, New Jersey-USGS image
Quake centered near Lebanon, New Jersey-USGS image

NEW YORK (AP) — An earthquake centered between New York and Philadelphia shook skyscrapers and suburbs across the northeastern U.S. for several seconds Friday morning, causing no major damage but startling millions of people in an area unaccustomed to such tremors.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a quake at 10:23 a.m. with a preliminary magnitude of 4.8, centered near Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, or about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of New York City and 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Philadelphia. The agency's figures indicated that over 42 million people might have felt the rumbling.

People from Baltimore to the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border reported feeling the ground shake. While there were no immediate reports of serious damage, officials were checking bridges and other major infrastructure, Amtrak slowed trains throughout the busy Northeast Corridor, and a Philadelphia-area commuter rail line suspended service out of what it said was “an abundance of caution.”

Pictures and decorative plates tumbled off the wall in Christiann Thompson's house in Whitehouse Station, she said. Thompson was volunteering at the local library when the quake hit, leaving few effects, but she got a report from her husband on the scene at home.

“The dogs lost their minds and got very terrified and ran around," she said.

It was “pretty weird and scary” for Shawn Clark, who felt the quake in his 26th-floor midtown Manhattan office. Clark, an attorney, initially feared an explosion or construction accident. His colleague Finn Dusenbery worried the ceiling or even the building would collapse.

The earthquake slowed travel along the East Coast, with some flights diverted and traffic snarled on roads and rails for runway, bridge, and tunnel inspections. Flights to the Newark, New York and Baltimore airports were held at their origins for a time while officials inspected runways for cracks. At least five flights en route to Newark were diverted and landed at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

Among the affected travelers: Seton Hall University’s men’s basketball team, which was stuck in Indianapolis, where it won the National Invitational Tournament on Thursday. The team said its flight to Newark was being held because of the earthquake-related ground stop, likely delaying a welcome-home celebration scheduled for Friday afternoon on Seton Hall's campus in South Orange, New Jersey.

Traffic through the Holland Tunnel between Jersey City, New Jersey, and lower Manhattan was stopped for about 10 minutes for inspections, the Port Authority of New York and Jersey said.

In midtown Manhattan, motorists blared their horns on shuddering streets. Some Brooklyn residents heard a boom and felt their building shaking. Cellphone circuits were overloaded for a time as people tried to reach loved ones and figure out what was going on.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the shaking interrupted the chief executive of Save The Children, Janti Soeripto, as she briefed an emergency Security Council session on the threat of famine in Gaza and the Israeli drone strikes that killed aid workers there.

“Is it an earthquake?” Soeripto wondered aloud, then asked if it was all right to go ahead. She did, but soon diplomats’ phones blared with earthquake alerts.

In New York City’s Astoria neighborhood, Cassondra Kurtz was giving her 14-year-old Chihuahua, Chiki, a cocoa-butter rubdown for her dry skin. Kurtz was recording the moment on video when her apartment started shaking hard enough that a large mirror banged audibly against a wall.

Kurtz assumed at first it was a big truck going by. The video captured her looking around, perplexed. Chiki, however, “was completely unbothered.”

Earthquakes are less common on the eastern than western edges of the U.S. because the East Coast does not lie on a boundary of tectonic plates. The biggest Eastern quakes usually occur along the mid-Atlantic Ridge, which extends through Iceland and the Atlantic Ocean.

Quakes on the East Coast can still pack a punch, as its rocks are better than their western counterparts at spreading earthquake energy across long distances.

“If we had the same magnitude quake in California, it probably wouldn’t be felt nearly as far away,” said USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso.

A 4.8-magnitude quake isn't large enough to cause damage, except for some minor effects near the epicenter, the agency posted on X.

Robert Thorson, a University of Connecticut earth sciences professor, said the quake resulted from the constant compression of the earth's hard, brittle crust in New Jersey.

“It’s like having a big block of ice in a vise, and you are just slowly cranking up the vise,” he said. Eventually, you’re going to get some crackling on it.”

Friday's quake was felt as far as Vermont and New Hampshire, where some residents initially figured it was snow falling off their roofs or plow trucks rumbling by.

Stacy Santa Cruz, a paralegal, watched her computer screen shake at her office in Hartford, Connecticut.

“I kind of was taken aback, but then I kind of processed that it might have been an earthquake," she said, noting that she'd experienced a significant quake in her native Peru.

Earthquakes with magnitudes near or above 5 struck near New York City in 1737, 1783 and 1884, the USGS said. And Friday's stirred memories of the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake that jolted tens of millions of people from Georgia to Canada. With an epicenter in Virginia, it left cracks in the Washington Monument and rattled New Yorkers ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Registering magnitude 5.8, it was the strongest earthquake to hit the East Coast since World War II.

On Friday, President Joe Biden said he had had spoken to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy about the earthquake. The White House said the administration would provide help if needed to state and local officials.

As of noon, New York City had no indications of major safety or infrastructure problems from the earthquake, said Mayor Eric Adams, who said he didn't feel the quake himself. City Buildings Commissioner James Oddo said officials would watch out for any delayed cracks or other effects on the Big Apple’s 1.1 million buildings.

A Chinatown art gallery owner, Kristen Thomas, worried for the fate of a sculpture that features five real eggs poised on a candelabra-like base. But the piece, by Carlos Estévez, was unbroken.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the quake was felt throughout the state, but officials had no reports of any life-threatening problems.

Solomon Byron felt it as he sat on a park bench in Manhattan’s East Village.

“I was just like, ‘Where is that vibration coming from?'" Byron recalled. He was especially puzzled since there were no subways running nearby.

But he didn’t realize there had been an earthquake until he got the alert on his cellphone.