Main Street Magazine, May 1, 1945

WHEN THE CITY SHOOK

By BARNETT EDWARDS

Startled Buffalonians, when they felt their beds shaking and saw pictures dancing on their walls last September 4 [1945], wondered if the city was being rocket-bombed. One thousand telephone calls flooded police and fire headquarters, but the switchboard operators there were as bewildered as anyone. Even the FBI was unable to solve the mystery of why its local office at Main and Court Streets was trembling like a leaf in the wind.

Dr. Austin J. McTigue, seismologist at Canisius College, finally supplied the answer. It was an earthquake of not inconsiderable proportions. And no wonder it had baffled the G-Men. No one, Dr. McTigue informed newsmen, knows exactly what causes an earthquake. Eminent seismologists have disputed that question for three centuries. However, the majority now agree that the phenomena derive from geological faults ... unsettled areas in the earth's under-surface.

Seven scientifically recorded earthquakes have occurred in Buffalo since the city was founded. The first two which were felt on July 2, 1871, and on August 21, 1879 . . . were very slight tremors and probably went unnoticed by the average citizen. The next one . . . on February 10, 1914 . . . was felt only in the

north-eastern section of the city. One of the most severe rocked the west and north sections of the city on February 28, 1925. A quake on August' 12, 1929, was felt in Buffalo but was most severe in the vicinity of Attica. Another mild earth tremor took place on November 1, 1935.

Last September's earthquake was described by Dr. McTigue as of "minor intensity." It caused only slight damage here . . . a few broken dishes as well as a lot of broken sleep

but at Cornwall, Ont., it resulted in $100,000 damage when chimneys and walls were toppled. The epicenter of the quake was about 293 miles from Buffalo and the tremor was believed to have followed a fault in the earth's surface which runs from Canada through the New England states, across New York, and into the South.

The quake set off a burglar alarm attached to the garaged automobile of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Barcellona of 236 Wallace Avenue, and sent eight policemen racing to the scene. It was also felt strongly in Niagara Falls, Lockport, Olean and other Western New York communities, and shook open the door of chicken coop in the barnyard of a Little Valley farmer.

But although no one was injured in the local quake, that is not to minimize the danger of such under-earth

eruptions. Since recorded history earthquakes have killed some 13,000,000 people. Today scientists estimate that quakes kill an average of 15,000 human beings a year. The tremblors are not infrequent either. There is one every hour somewhere in the world.

Earthquakes mean fire ... the real seismic danger. The 1906 San Francisco disaster is an example. The shocks, although relatively light, broke the city's water mains and crippled the fire departments. Small fires from cracked chimneys and overturned lamps spread over 50& blocks. Huge sheets of flame roared over the city, reaching a temperature of 2700 degrees Fahrenheit and transforming the most "fireproof" buildings into masses of twisted steel and concrete. Four hundred and fifty-two people died in the holacaust; the rest watched $400,000,000 worth of property go up in smoke.

The San Francisco earthquake spurred scientists to provide vulnerable cities with "seismic protection". Many large cities now have auxiliary water mains and emergency equipment ready at an instant's notice to pump water from nearby lakes and bays. Despite this, horrible death by thirst and starvation might be the lot of New Yorkers if an earthquake should ever strike Manhattan.

Within the city of New York are 223 miles of subway, vehicular and railway tunnels - . . and about 130 miles of pedestrian tunnels ... which offer practically the only means of escape from the island. Water is pumped for miles from the Catskills by means of huge aqueducts. If a quake broke water mains and blocked

transportation tunnels, it would be almost impossible for New Yorkers to get drinking water and food. Fortunately, however, there is very little chance of a real earthquake leveling Manhattan . . - or, for that matter, Buffalo. Both cities rest securely and safely on a l,800,000,000-yearold rock foundation and there is little danger.

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The worst recorded earthquake in history struck Japan on March 10, 1923, wiping out Tokyo and Yokohama. All the elements combined to make the Tokyo disaster nature's costliest prank on mankind. Countless major earthquakes have rocked the world, but none has ever come so near to obliterating an entire nation. When the first deep rumblings of the earthquake were heard a 50-mile-an-hour wind was sweeping through the Japanese capital. It was meal time, and hundreds of thousands of open fires burned inside of flimsy wood and paper houses.

At the first shock every small dwelling in Tokyo collapsed. In an hour, the city was a raging furnace. Uncontrolled fires swept through Tokyo, devouring everything in their path. Forty thousand terrified Japanese sought refuge in an open park. A gigantic avalanche of flame rolled over them, sparing not a single soul and leaving nothing but a mound of human ashes.

The earthquake and fire claimed 210,000 other victims. Thousands escaped to the Tokyo suburbs, only to die of starvation. Landslides smothered railways; bridges collapsed, and all available means of communication were wrecked. A 35foot sea wave engulfed the port of Yokohama, spinning ships around

like tops. When the smoke cleared away, Japan counted up a staggering $2,500,000,000 property loss.

Scientists record and locate earthquakes by seismographs. These seismographs are complicated-looking mechanisms, but in reality based on the simple principle of the pendulum. A needle is suspended over a revolving steel drum covered with paper. A shaft sunk deep into the earth supports the drum while the needle is secured to the floor. Every earthquake sends out five- mile- a-second wave vibrations through the subterranean rock strata. When these pulsations reach the seismograph's shaft, the drum quivers under the

needle which traces out the vibrations on the paper. Thus earthquakes from the most remote corners of the world are brought almost instantly to the seismologist's laboratory.

Some electrical seismographs magnify seismic wave-vibrations as much as 2000 times. Such instruments require the most delicate handling and care. Some years ago, Father Joseph Lynch, chief seismologist at Fordham University, noticed that one of his instruments had recorded a severe quake. He consulted his, seven other seismographs and found them norma!. Puzzled, he took the first machine apart . . . and found a spider walking around in the works.

Earthquakes in Buffalo from the WBFO Files:

10/23/1857 Earthquake is felt in Buffalo

8/12/1929 Earthquake (5.6 magnitude) centered in Attica causes some severe damage in Western New York, and is felt over a 100 thousand square mile area

11/ 1/1935 Earthquake shakes Western New York for about 2 minutes; no casualties or major damage reported, but many plaster ceilings and walls were reported cracked

2/23/1939 Earthquake centered in Attica causes some severe damage in Western New York, and is felt over a 100 thousand square mile area

12/24/1940 Earthquake is felt in Buffalo

9/ 4/1944 Earthquake is felt in Buffalo; it was centered in eastern Ontario on Labor Day at 11:39PM

9/20/1946 Earthquake is registered in Niagara Falls; geologists would later blame this quake for weakening a fault and loosening rock behind the Schoellkopf Power Station in the Niagara Gorge, leading to its collapse under a rockslide Jun 7 1956

8/12/1969 Earthquake is felt in Attica

5/25/1995 Earthquake (estimated 3.0 magnitude) at 10:22AM is felt in Western New York, especially in North Buffalo and Tonawanda; the epicenter
is believed to be along Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda or at Main Street and Bailey Avenue in Buffalo

9/25/1998 Earthquake (5.0 magnitude) at 3:53PM centered in Sharon PA is felt throughout Western New York; no damage is reported---

Contributed by Mark Wozniak, WBFO Buffalo
205 Allen Hall, Univ at Buffalo


More on Earthquakes in New York State: click here

GPS Coordinates: Buffalo, NY 42 52.00 N 78 55.00 W

 

 

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