earthquake musings

Hairy Fairy Cup by Noah Siegel, at Devil’s Hopyard State Park

About 38 miles (61 kilometers) northwest from here is a town called Moodus. The Native Americans called the area “morehemoodus,” or “place of noises.” The noises come from the earth, fault lines running under the community. Modern citizens refer to them as Moodus Noises. With the disaster in Japan on my mind I took more note than usual when news reports came in on Thursday that Moodus had experienced a little 1.3 magnitude earthquake Wednesday night at 8:42 p.m. The epicenter was close to Devil’s Hopyard State Park.

We didn’t notice it here, and it caused no damage, but in Moodus they heard a loud bang and felt some movement, causing residents to call the police department and the police to drive around looking for what they feared might be an explosion. At 11:00 p.m. the U.S. Geological Survey called to tell them of the quake and the search was called off.

I’ve never felt an earthquake before and started to wonder about the local geological history of Connecticut. It turns out that on May 16, 1791 Connecticut experienced what they believe was about a 7.0 quake in the same area. “The stone walls were thrown down, chimneys were untopped, doors which were latched were thrown open, and a fissure in the ground of several rods in extent was afterwards discovered,” an observer said. It caused damage across southern Connecticut and it could be felt as far as Boston and New York. There were more than a hundred aftershocks overnight. It was the largest known earthquake in Connecticut’s history.

Apparently there was a 5.0 earthquake in southern Connecticut on November 3, 1968, but being an eleven year old in northern Connecticut at that time, I missed that one, too. Not that I necessarily want to experience an earthquake! When we lived in Greece in the early 1970s I felt there was a good chance of having one while we were there. And there was a little one my parents felt in Athens, but Beverly and I were away on a school field trip.

And happily imbibing, as I recall! As far as I know, children of all ages were allowed alcoholic beverages in Greece at that time. My parents actually told us not to drink the water as there was a meningitis outbreak in the area. We were instructed to drink only the wine. There were a few overly tipsy evenings on that field trip, this being a wild treat for the American students in our school… The European students were not sure what all our excitement was about. 🙂

This was one of those experiences that had an effect on my opinions about having an age of majority for alcohol. If you grow up drinking wine with your family it loses its fascination and thrill and all sense of novelty.

Two glasses of the Greek wine retsina, photo by Yorick R.

But I digress…

So, anyway… I started wondering, again, just how far above sea level are we, in case we have an earthquake here big enough to cause a tsunami. (After all, there was a 3.9 earthquake off Long Island on November 30, 2010, just a few months ago.) Beverly pointed me to an online topographical map of Connecticut: UConn Map & Geographic Information Center (MAGIC). Looks like we’re about 20 feet above sea level. The entrance gate of the campus where Tim works is about 90 feet above sea level, so we’ve decided that’s where we’ll meet. Happy for me, if driving there isn’t possible I can walk uphill to get there, or run rather, IF we ever feel the earth rumbling here. Somehow it feels better to be prepared, to have a plan.

20 thoughts on “earthquake musings”

  1. Good to have a plan… go to high ground!
    Great info by the way! If we really think about the earth shifts and moves all the time, some area more then others.

    You could buy a boat too!

    Hey lets let our kids drink, our water’s is not much better sometimes. Just kidding.

    1. Not sure if a boat would help – after seeing the way that tsunami was tossing ships around and slamming them into bridges… Definitely heading for higher ground!

      I also wonder about all that Kool-Aid I drank as a kid, full of all those dyes and artificial flavors. It’s scary when you think about it!

  2. I like the clues that original places can give you to the nature of a location. In Ireland some basic Irish vocabulary can tell you a lot about the geographical setting of a town from its anglicized name.

    1. I love the sound of the names of places in Ireland, especially when someone with an Irish accent says them.

      Here place names seem to be either based on Native American names or copies of English names. I live in New England after all, across the Thames River from the city of New London. But our state has a Native American name, Connecticut, derived from “Quinnehtukqut,” meaning “beside the long tidal river.” The long tidal river is now known as the Connecticut River.

  3. So interesting, Barbara. I didn’t know the origin of ‘Moodus,’ and wasn’t aware of any of the earthquake activity you referenced in 1791 and beyond. We’ve got a boat in Noank that’s been for sale for a few years. You can climb aboard that if need be. 😉

    1. It helps having a sister who teaches geology at Connecticut College – she likes to impress me with geological trivia which makes me curious enough to do a little research.

      Noank is such a pretty little village – thanks for the offer of your boat as refuge, but I think I’ll head inland! 😉 Is it a sailboat?

      1. I love Noank, but think you have a point about heading inland. We were sailors, but switched to power in the last five years of boating. And then gave up the “hobby” so we could put our kids through college – or at least try to help them a little with whatever finances were left after years of boating! 😉

        1. Tim and his brother love to sail. His brother and two other guys bought a sailboat together in Virginia, where his brother lives, to share the expense. Tim and Dan have also rented sailboats for a day or two in Provincetown. It is an expensive, but thrilling “hobby.”

          When my mom was a little girl, her family had a sailboat, too. Her maiden name was “White” and they named their boat “White Cap,” which I thought was very clever. 🙂

          I don’t envy anyone trying to put their kids through college. It gets harder every year that passes…

  4. We live quite near a nuclear generator of the same make as those in Japan which have had so much trouble. Our plan: there’s not much we can do. We are at ground zero. The official evacuation plan is to go downwind. We shall try to go in another direction.
    I had no idea of the earthquakes on the east coast. I think that there have been a few in the midwest as well. Low chance of a tsunami, though.

    1. We live about 12 miles from the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Connecticut, but I have no idea what make it is. We have an official evacuation plan, too, but the only direction we can head by land is north!

      I’m told that earthquakes can generate seiches (standing waves in enclosed or partially enclosed bodies of water) thousands of miles away from the epicenter. Lakes in seismically active areas are at risk from seiches…

  5. Hi Barbara,
    I also have never experienced an earthquake, although earthqaukes do happen in OZ, but none have ever been recorded where I live.

    I think it’s great that you have worked out where to go and what to do if a big quake hit, after Japan I feel a lot of people may of done the same.
    “Hairy fairy cup” what an unusaul name, I don’t think I have heard of it before.

    1. Are you well above sea level? Of course floods can come from higher elevations, too, and be just as overpowering, I would imagine, never having experienced a major flood either.

      I had never heard of a hairy fairy cup until I was looking for a picture from the area of the little earthquake epicenter. I think I’m going to explore Devil’s Hopyard State Park when Tim is better and the weather is better, too. I’ll be keeping my eye out for a hairy fairy cup!

  6. Hi Barbara, An enjoyable informative read. Congratulations. I had no idea there were so many sizable earthquakes around Connecticut.
    I also have never heard of a hairy fairy cup!
    Living in L.A. we too should have a plan but really I don’t know where we could go for safety because it depends on where the epicenter of the earthquake is, and where you are at the time…

    I wrote a blog about a 4.4 earthquake that woke me up last year:

    1. I guess the only plan one can reasonably make for an earthquake is to make sure all buildings in a community are up to code. But I imagine you know where higher ground is in case of a tsunami that might follow an earthquake.

      I’m off to read your post!

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