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10 biggest earthquakes to hit the east coast

Published August 24. 2011 05:02PM

Tuesday's earthquake in Virginia had a magnitude of 5.8. Earthquakes in the central and eastern United States, although less frequent than in the west, are usually felt over a much broader area.

Compared to the west coast, an earthquake east of the Rocky Mountains can be felt over a region as much as 10 times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake. A magnitude 4.0 on the east coast can be felt as far as 60 miles from the epicenter, and can infrequently cause damage near its source.

A magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake can sometimes be felt as far as 300 miles from where it occurred, as well as can cause damage as far away as 25 miles. Earthquakes are rare on the eastern side of the United States, but some stronger quakes have made their mark in history. Here's a breakdown of 10 of the largest quakes to hit the eastern half of the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

1. New Madrid, Mo., 1811-1812, Magnitude 7.5-7.7: This sequence of three very large earthquakes is referred to as the New Madrid earthquakes, and they rank as some of the largest in the United States since its settlement by Europeans.

2. Charleston, S.C., 1886, Magnitude 7.3: This was the most damaging earthquake to occur in the southeast United States. It damaged or destroyed many buildings in Charleston and killed 60 people.

3. Mississippi County, Mo., 1895, Magnitude 6.6: One of the largest earthquakes to occur in the central Mississippi River Valley, it downed chimneys, cracked walls and shattered windows.

4. Northeast Arkansas, 1843, Magnitude 6.3: Damage was severe in Memphis, Tenn., where walls cracked, windows broke, and one building collapsed. The earth sank in places near New Madrid, Mo.

5. Giles County, Va., 1897, Magnitude 5.9: This earthquake was the largest in intensity and aerial extent in Virginia in recent history. Damage reports included downed chimneys and "changes in the flow of springs.

6. New York City, NY, 1884, Magnitude 5.5: This severe earthquake affected an area extending along the Atlantic Coast from Southern Maine to central Virginia and west to Cleveland, Ohio, where chimneys were knocked down and walls were cracked.

7. Ossipee Lake, N.H., 1940, Magnitude 5.5: Two earthquakes of about the same intensity happened four days apart. Although the second shock was shorter, it was somewhat more intense than the first.

8. Southern Illinois, 1968, Magnitude 5.4: This was the largest quake in Illinois history. The quake was felt in all or part of 23 different states.

9. Southeast Illinois, 2008, Magnitude 5.4: This quake happened about 20 miles southeast of Olney, Ill. A few buildings sustained minor structural damage, and a cornice fell from one building at Louisville, Ky.

10. Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y., 1983, Magnitude 5.3: One old chimney collapsed, about 20 tombstones slid or rotated, and some minor cracks formed in plaster walls. Several landslides were reported.

(Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)

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