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February 5, 2010

Earthquakes in Perspective

With the Haitian earthquake in the news a brief history of earthquakes in Northern Ontario may be of interest. The great rock slabs that make up the earth’s upper layer slide and collide regularly. There are recorded tremors every day but few are noticed by humans. About 80% happen along the rim of the Pacific Ocean. Earthquakes are rated by the strength and duration of the waves on what is called a Richter Scale. On the Richter Scale 3 to 5 is felt activity, 5 to 7 is strong and 7 to 8+ is major. On average a magnitude 8 quake strikes somewhere on every year. Upwards of 10,000 people are killed annually in quakes, mud slides, fires, floods and tsunamis. The Haitian earthquake on January 12th was a 7.0 magnitude and the January 20^th a 5.9. The fragile buildings and close population caused severe damage and thousands of deaths.

Devastation caused by Haitian earthquake

Canada’s Largest

On June 23rd 1946 a 7.3 earthquake hit Vancouver Island. The town of Courtenay was impacted and tremors were felt in Prince Rupert B.C. and as far south as Portland Oregon. With a relatively small population only 2 people were killed and damage was minimal.. Over 75% of chimneys were damaged. Tall buildings in Vancouver and Victoria swayed .

Northern Ontario

The following earthquakes were reported in recent years in Northern Ontario. 2006 – Kapuskasing 3.4; Sudbury 4.1; Cochrane 4.2; and in 2009 near Kirkland Lake 3.4.

As mentioned in my recent Millennium New Years Eve article an earthquake started in Temiscaming Quebec and rolled into Quebec and shook North Bay on New Years Day in 2000. It was 5.2 on the Richter Scale. It lasted about 10 seconds. There were 3 small aftershocks and houses shook and most people got up and put their lights on. The OPP phones rang continuously. Eighty percent of the chimneys were damaged in Temiscaming. Reports indicate that there have been 26 earthquakes since 1914.

The Big One

I have a 1989 copy of the Nugget’s Weekender where Gord McCullock reported on a powerful earthquake in our area in 1935. The quake, centred in Temiscaming Quebec, happened on November 1, All Saints’ Day at 1:04 a.m. just after the Halloween dust had settled. About 200km below the earth’s surface the earth moved. The centre was on the north end of Tee Lake 6 miles north of Temiscaming. The tremors were felt from the Atlantic to Winnipeg and from the Carolinas to the Arctic. Considering the scale of the quake, damage was minimal. In North Bay chimneys toppled crashing verandas, beds shook and dishes crashed.

There were aftershocks throughout the night and for months afterwards. Some buildings shifted and water pipes were broken. Many left their homes temporarily. Evacuation drills were run in some schools.

One of the bases of a seismograph used to monitor vibrations after the 1935 earthquake in Temiscaming Quebec.

Seismograph Stations

For about a year several seismographic stations were operated around Temiscaming to monitor earth movements. The delicate instruments were placed on concrete foundations set on rock outcroppings. Reports were forwarded and analyzed. For years hunters were surprised when they ran across these abandoned foundations. Frances (Mac) Macleod, a technician at the Canadian International Paper Co., had a unit placed near his home (see photo). He changed the film every day for a year and mailed them to Ottawa.

1975 Event

Forty years later in December 1975 a 4.2 quake centered on Lake Kipawa 35km NW of Temiscaming took place. Residents said it was like a passing 18 wheeler and windows and dishes rattled. The tremor started about 15-20 miles below the surface.

Emergency Preparedness

There are plans for dealing with disasters in place now in most communities that provide for emergency aid, food, etc. That would apply to a quake. Another quake is clearly a possibility in our lifetime along with the possibility of disasters like windstorms, ice storms ,fire and plane crashes.

Don’t be scared, be prepared!

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