Why do earthquakes in other countries seem to cause more damage and casualties than earthquakes in the U.S.?

There is more damage and more deaths from earthquakes in other parts of the world primarily because of buildings which are poorly designed and constructed for earthquake regions, and population density.

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How does the USGS tell the difference between an earthquake and a sonic boom?

Steps to identification of a sonic boom: The USGS sees either nothing on our seismic records or a fairly short high-frequency signal that doesn't look like an earthquake. On rare occasions, we see the event on multiple stations, and the time difference between stations matches the speed of sound in air, which is slower than the speed of seismic...

What are earthquake lights?

Phenomena such as sheet lightning, balls of light, streamers, and steady glows, reported in association with earthquakes are called earthquake lights (EQL). Geophysicists differ on the extent to which they think that individual reports of unusual lighting near the time and epicenter of an earthquake actually represent EQL: some doubt that any of...

Can you feel an earthquake if you're in a cave? Is it safer to be in a cave during an earthquake?

There is nothing different about a cave that would make it immune to the shaking from an earthquake. Just as there are safer and less safer places to be on the surface of the earth during an earthquake, there are also various characteristics inside caves that make some cave locations safer or less safe than others. First of all, whether or not you...

What is liquefaction?

Liquefaction takes place when loosely packed, water-logged sediments at or near the ground surface lose their strength in response to strong ground shaking. Liquefaction occurring beneath buildings and other structures can cause major damage during earthquakes. For example, the 1964 Niigata earthquake caused widespread liquefaction in Niigata,...

Where can I find photographs of earthquake damage?

Two sources for photographs that show earthquake damage are: Earthquake Hazards Program - Earthquake Photo Collections U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library (see 'earthquakes' in the categories left column)

How can an earthquake affect groundwater or changes in wells?

Groundwater levels in wells may oscillate up and down while seismic waves pass, and in some cases, the water level may remain higher or lower for a period of time after the seismic wavetrain has ended.

What are those booms I sometimes hear before or during an earthquake?

"Booms" have been reported for a long time, and they tend to occur more in the Northeastern US and along the East Coast. Of course, most "booms" that people hear or experience are actually some type of cultural noise, such as some type of explosion, a large vehicle going by, or sometimes a sonic boom, but there have been many reports of "booms"...

At what magnitude does damage begin to occur in an earthquake?

It isn't that simple. There is not one magnitude above which damage will occur. It also depends on other variables, such as the the distance from the earthquake, what type of soil you are on, etc. That being said, damage does not usually occur until the earthquake magnitude reaches somewhere above 4 or 5.

What does an earthquake feel like?

The way an earthquake feels depends on where you are, where the earthquake is, and how big the earthquake is: A large earthquake nearby will feel like a sudden large jolt followed quickly by more strong shaking that may last a few seconds or up to a couple of minutes if it's a rare great event. The shaking will feel violent and it will be...
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Date published: August 21, 2015

South Napa Earthquake – One Year Later

One year ago, the largest earthquake in over 25 years hit the San Francisco Bay Area, causing significant damage in California’s famous Napa Valley. The magnitude 6.0 earthquake occurred early in the morning on August 24, 2014, on the West Napa Fault.

Date published: June 10, 2015

6 Facts about Human-Caused Earthquakes

The central United States has undergone a dramatic increase in seismicity over the past 6 years. From 1973-2008, there was an average of 24 earthquakes of magnitude 3 and larger per year. 

Date published: January 15, 2014

20 Years After Northridge Quake, Buildings Remain Vulnerable

Twenty years ago this week an earthquake struck Northridge, Calif., killing 57 people and revealing a serious defect in a common type of mid-rise building. A new study by U.S. Geological Survey and Caltech engineers, shows that these mid-rise buildings with fracture-prone welds in their steel frames are much more dangerous than they would be if they met current standards.

Date published: January 11, 2011

Haiti Dominates Earthquake Fatalities in 2010

While the U.S. Geological Survey recorded 22 magnitude-7 or larger earthquakes in 2010, almost all the fatalities were produced by one — the major quake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12.

In 2010, about 227,000 people were killed due to earthquakes, with over 222,570 from the magnitude-7.0 Haiti event, as reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Date published: February 23, 2010

USGS Updates Assessment of Earthquake Hazard and Safety in Haiti and the Caribbean

RESTON, Va. — The threat of additional damaging earthquakes in Haiti will remain for the next year.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued an update to its Jan. 21, 2010, statement, which includes the aftershock probabilities for the next 30-to-90-day period and for the overall year.

Date published: May 28, 1998

Map of Western Hemisphere Indicates Location of Potential Earthquake Damage

BOSTON -- A new ground shaking hazard map of the Western Hemisphere will show regions of potential earthquake damage, providing a useful global seismic hazard tool for government, industry and the general public.

Date published: April 8, 1997

Large Earthquakes Are Hazards to be Reckoned With in Hawaii; Could Affect Building Codes, According to USGS Researcher

The term "geologic hazards" in Hawaii generally means volcanic eruptions and lava flows. A hazard that might not come to mind is the possibility of earthquakes, as large as magnitude-eight, under the flanks of the active volcanoes, according to Fred Klein, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif.

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Damage to Monuments in Nepal
April 27, 2016

Damage to Monuments in Nepal

Major damage was more likely to monuments in Kathmandu, Nepal than more modern structures.

Image: USGS Rapid Response to Haiti
February 1, 2010

USGS Rapid Response to Haiti

Collapsed multi-story residence in Port-au-Prince following the magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. The weight of heavy concrete floors and roofs was often too great for the modest strength in support columns, as evidenced here.

Image: USGS Rapid Response to Haiti
February 1, 2010

USGS Rapid Response to Haiti

Collapsed multi-story building occupied by "Centre D'Edudes La Concorde" in Port-au-Prince, a result of the magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. An examination of the adjacent buildings indicates that this structure was either two or three stories tall. Interviews with eye-witnesses confirm that most structures collapsed within ten or slightly more

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Image: Damage from 2008 Great Sichuan Earthquake in China
October 18, 2008

Damage from 2008 Great Sichuan Earthquake in China

The May 12, 2008, Great Sichuan Earthquake, also called the Wenchuan Earthquake, occurred at 14:28 local time, in Sichuan Province, China. The earthquake magnitudes were Mw = 7.9 (USGS), Ms = 8.0 (Chinese Earthquake Administration). The epicenter was 80 km west-northwest of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. Damage by earthquake-induced landslides was

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Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Collapsed Building
May 25, 2008

Collapsed Building

Collapsed residential building in Mianyang.

Image: Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage
January 1, 1994

Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage

Collection of USGS still images taken after the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake highlighting the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Villagers in Kerauja, Nepal standing below a large rock slide

Villagers in Kerauja, Nepal standing below a large rock slide

Villagers in Kerauja, Nepal standing below a large rock slide that resulted in one fatality.

Attribution: Landslide Hazards
Earthquake damage with family in foreground

Earthquake damage with family in foreground

Composite photo of 1906 damaged buildings and modern family in foreground

Attribution: Earthquake Hazards