A Rude Awakening on a Friday Morning

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Earthquake Achieves A Record in NYC Residents Sharing Earthquake Stories

Earthquake map, April 5, 2024, Courtesy of US Geological Survey

It is a rare occurrence to have a relatively higher magnitude earthquake in New York City, but that all changed on Friday, April 5 at 10:23 AM. A 4.8 magnitude earthquake made its presence in Tewksbury, New Jersey and near Whitehouse Station, which is 45 miles west of NYC. Unaccustomed New Yorkers at large opened their eyes, and began sharing their experiences everywhere from Facebook to their street corner. Afterall, this was the strongest earthquake in the NYC region in over 130 years. 

“Did anyone think to record their apartment or office shaking, or did we all just stand there, thinking if we just had an earthquake? Will the eclipse be jealous?” asked Forest Hills resident Chaya Waters. 

Some New Yorkers wondered why an emergency alert appeared late at 11:02 AM on their smartphones, which read, “4.7 magnitude earthquake has occurred in the NYC area. Residents are advised to remain indoors and to call 911 if injured.” The U.S. Geological Survey detected nearly 30 aftershocks in Central New Jersey, where several were felt in NYC. At 5:59 PM, a 3.8 magnitude aftershock was detected near Gladstone, New Jersey, with a depth of 5.3 miles, which also jolted New Yorkers, but milder than that morning. 

Fifteen minutes after the earthquake, Upper West Side shop “Big Frog Custom T-Shirts” produced an “I Survived The NYC Earthquake, April 5th 2024” t-shirt, which features the skyline, and it became an instantaneous best-seller at $10.

According to Britannica, an earthquake is defined as a sudden shaking of the ground caused by the passage of seismic waves through Earth’s rocks. It is produced when energy in the Earth’s crust is released, consisting of masses of rock straining against one another, suddenly fracturing and slipping on a fault. Tectonic plates routinely shift gradually, but get stuck at their edges resulting from friction.  

For many residents, the Friday morning earthquake rang a bell of the August 23, 2011 earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.8 that affected millions from Georgia to Canada, and had an epicenter in Virginia. Recently on January 2, a 1.7 magnitude earthquake was measured in Astoria around 5:45 AM, but most New Yorkers have not felt it. 

One typically associates the term “earthquake” with California, but in NYC, a relatively strong earthquake likely transpires a few times per century, which qualifies Friday’s event as history-in-the-making. Based on findings from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, a total of 18 large earthquakes have occurred in New York City since 1737, with number 19 on April 5. 

On a similar note to Friday’s earthquake, North Central, New Jersey experienced a 4.9 magnitude earthquake on November 30, 1783, resulting in the dismantling of chimneys due to earlier construction methods. Friday’s event also holds a record as the largest earthquake with a New York City area epicenter since August 10, 1884, when a 5.2 magnitude earthquake began in Brooklyn. It toppled chimneys and was felt from Virginia to Maine. That is tied with the Greater New York City 5.2 magnitude earthquake on December 19, 1737. Another one of the largest Greater NYC earthquakes achieved a 4.4 magnitude on September 9, 1848. 

Forest Hills resident Linda Perlman was sitting in her dining room, texting a friend, when the table began shaking. She recalled, “My hubby was snoozing on the couch, and woke up saying it was moving. I yelled ‘Earthquake!’ It felt weird, but I experienced this once before, so that’s how I knew. I remembered that on August 23, 2011, I sat at the same table, and felt it shake the same way. At that time, there was a vase with flowers on the table, which shook as well. All my plants were shaking, as well as the crystals in my wall unit. Same shaking, same place, but over 12 years later!”

Another Forest Hills resident, Lynn Goodman, was at her cousin’s Great Neck apartment, sitting on a couch, when she felt everything shaking violently. She recalled, “I thought the neighbor upstairs was drilling. It’s funny, but as a New Yorker, it never entered my mind that it was an earthquake. My cousin, who happens to be in California, called and told me that it was an earthquake. It was extremely scary. After the earthquake, I did not get an alert on my phone until about an hour later. That’s not good.” 

Mind games ranked high. “My immediate thought that it was just the LIRR train passing by,” said Dimitri Vulis of Forest Hills. “As it continued rumbling, I surmised that it might be a heavily loaded freight train.” Kevin Wadalavage, also of Forest Hills, was approximately 80 feet from the LIRR tracks. “I wondered why the ground was shaking, even though there were no diesel trains passing by.”

Scott Kantrowitz reminisced the August 23, 2011 earthquake. “I just moved back to New York from Las Vegas, and sat in my car, waiting for someone to meet me at a job site. The car started shaking, and I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never been in an earthquake. I thought there was an issue with the car, but realized it was off.” Now nearly 13 years later, he sat in his third floor Rego Park apartment, napping with his Chihuahua on his lap. “He woke me up and lost his little mind, walking in circles. We didn’t know what was going on for fifteen seconds. When he was barking and shaking, I put him back on my lap and covered him.” 

Robin M. Becker, who resides in the historic Mowbray in Kew Gardens, explained her experience as she fed her cat. “Suddenly, I felt the ground shake. I have a China cupboard in my kitchen and the dishes rattled. For a second, I thought maybe they were doing construction in my building, but then I wondered if it was an earthquake. I texted a friend in Manhattan, and she said it actually was.”    

Thanks to technology, Emi Willen felt she had a citywide earthquake experience. She attended an online CUNY Malave Leadership Academy training session from her Forest Hills home. “It was interesting to hear in real time how severe it felt. It seems Queens and Manhattan felt it more than the Bronx. I thought it was just a very big truck passing my house since it was incredibly loud. Things on my desk were moving, and I realized that this was stronger than what a truck could do. I interrupted my CUNY Malave cohort and said, ‘Are we having an earthquake? My house is shaking,’ and one if the other members responded, ‘I’m glad you said something! I thought I was imagining it.’ This was followed by many other people saying whether they felt it or not, and stating their locations. A member in Queens College said her office started evacuating, since it was severe.”

It began as a typical quiet morning for Richmond Hill Historical Society President Helen Day, who sat at her desk on her home’s second floor. She recalled, “I worked on emails, when all of a sudden, everything shook. It was not the vibration you feel when a large truck rumbles, but something much deeper. It seemed to last maybe four or five seconds, and I felt relieved when it stopped.” Then she went downstairs to check her house. “I didn’t find any cracks, which is surprising in a 100-year-old house. Nothing had fallen out of place. I just knew it had to be an earthquake, although I had not experienced one before,” she continued. 

Shifting gears to Middle Village, Veronica Marzz heard a bizarre rumble, as if a plane flew closely atop her house. “It almost felt as if someone was working with a jackhammer nearby. A new house is being built next door, so I thought that’s what it was, until I realized my desk was shaking and my mirror was rattling. I was on the phone with my boss, and I said, ‘Something is wrong here. My desk is shaking.’ Three seconds later, he said, ‘Mine too. We’re having an earthquake!’ A family member in Middle Village also called to report their bathroom ceiling cracked.’” 

Carroll Kruger, who lives near 99th Street and 64th Avenue, sat in her living room, checking emails and Facebook on my iPad. It was windy, and she thought a very strong gust of wind hit the building, but then her apartment began shaking. She explained, “It went on for at least 10 to 15 seconds, but one is never sure of exact times in situations like that. Friends started messaging me, and I was doing the same. I have experienced two quakes in Queens, but both times, my apartment just swayed. It was more than a little concerning when it started shaking the way it did. At 6 PM, I was in my living room again, and the apartment started shaking, but not as long or as much as in the morning.”

When Kruger analyzed her feelings later that day, what proved troublesome besides safety was a lack of control. She said, “Two days prior, I had a sense of uneasiness, since I watched the news about the Taiwan quake. It was almost as if I had a premonition.” She began searching for the topic of NYC earthquakes. “I don’t know how people in California live with that uncertainty every day. I guess one just gets used to it and takes it in stride.”   

“I was in the Sutphin Boulevard courthouse for my first day of jury duty. It felt like they were using a hydraulic drill in the basement. People were just looking at each other not quite knowing what to think, and the staff wasn’t reacting either,” said Astoria resident Carol Zytnik. She also received a text from her roommate, referencing a shaky start to the day. “I thought he was talking about the treatment procedure he was having at Mount Sinai Hospital, but then the emergency alerts started coming through everyone’s cell phones.”

Faults map, April 5, 2024, Courtesy of US Geological Survey

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