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The Biggest Earthquakes To Hit Surprising Parts of the US

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The earth beneath our feet is often thought of as solid and unchanging. However, almost everywhere on the planet can potentially experience the ground suddenly turning against us. 

When we think of US earthquakes, images of California’s San Andreas Fault shaking Hollywood come to mind. However, this seemingly settled perception belies a surprising truth—seismic activity can and does occur anywhere in the vast United States.

We’ll look at lesser-known earthquakes that have rattled unexpected parts of the U.S. in this article. Some of these earthquakes are extremely old and occurred in the 1800s. Others are modern and may have even been experienced by some of our readers!

You can also take a look at the most earthquake-prone states in America

1. New Madrid Seismic Zone

Minnesota | Aerial view of Minneapolis and the Lowry Avenue bridge
Source: jimkruger / E+ via Getty Images

  • Location: Mississippi Valley, Ohio River Valley
  • Year: 1811 – 1812
  • Magnitude: 7.0 – 8.0 (Estimated)

When the Mississippi Flowed Backwards

Source: marekuliasz / iStock via Getty Images

You may have heard of the earthquake that made the Mississippi River flow backward! This earthquake caused widespread damage, but it occurred so early in the nation’s history that we don’t know much about it. People did not measure earthquakes back then!

This earthquake was also technically a series of earthquakes that occurred over several months. The strongest was felt in the Mississippi Valley, but we don’t know exactly where the epicenter is. 

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

  • Location: Charleston, South Carolina
  • Year: 1886
  • Magnitude: 7.3

The Largest East Coast Earthquake

South Carolina | Charleston south Carolina
Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

This earthquake that occurred in 1886 is one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded on the East Coast. It caused severe damage to Charleston and surrounding towns. 

Brick buildings were particularly threatened, and many historic churches and other buildings were destroyed. The earthquake even caused a tsunami, which caused additional damage to the coast. 

3. Great Lakes Region

Indianapolis neighborhood
Source: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

  • Location: Indiana-Ohio Border
  • Year: 1906
  • Magnitude: 8.3

The Boston and New Orleans Earthquake

Massachusetts+skyline+aerial | Boston, MA
Source: pasa / Flickr

This earthquake was so large that it caused significant damage in both Boston and New Orleans. As it occurred so long ago, we don’t know the exact figures on it. However, it occurred somewhere near the Indiana-Ohio border. 

The actual epicenter was sparsely populated. However, the earthquake was so significant that it caused significant damage to cities around the Great Lakes, like Chicago and Detroit. 

4. Attica, New York

Row of elegant Harlem brownstone stoops in the fall
Source: MDoculus / iStock via Getty Images

  • Location: Attica, New York
  • Year: 1929
  • Magnitude: 6.2

The New York Earthquake

Source: Andre Carrotflower / Wikimedia Commons

While this earthquake wasn’t as strong as others, the epicenter was in a densely populated area, leading to widespread damage. 

Buildings in western New York were heavily impacted, with many collapsing suddenly. There were no fatalities, luckily, but several deaths did occur in the aftermath due to fires that were likely caused by the earthquake. 

5. Craigsville, Virginia

Rectortown+Virginia | U.S. 17 and Delaplane, Virginia
Source: kenlund / Flickr

  • Location: Craigsville, Virginia
  • Year: 1897
  • Magnitude: 5.8

One Reason We Have Building Codes

Source: PersianDutchNetwork / Wikimedia Commons

The earthquake in Craigsville, Virginia, in 1897 is one reason we should be thankful for building codes! This earthquake wasn’t huge. However, it struck a populated area with unreinforced brick buildings. Many of these collapsed, causing injuries. 

There was widespread damage to Craigsville and surrounding towns. Events like these are one reason we have building codes today.

6. Platte County, Missouri

Source: Tupungato / Shutterstock

  • Location: Platte County, Missouri
  • Year: 2011
  • Magnitude: 5.7

Proof Earthquakes Occur Almost Everywhere

Source: walencienne / iStock via Getty Images

This earthquake is the most recent on our list. It reminds us that earthquakes can occur anywhere, including in Kansas City. While no fatalities were reported, it highlighted the need for earthquake preparedness even in places without regular earthquakes. 

7. Denton, Texas

Source: Marti157900 / iStock via Getty Images

  • Location: Denton, Texas
  • Year: 1881
  • Magnitude: 6.0

No One Exacted a Texas Earthquake

Source: flight1ap / Shutterstock.com

Texas isn’t known for getting very many earthquakes, especially in Northern Texas. However, in 1881, a decently powerful earthquake struck the region. Luckily, the area was sparsely populated then, so there wasn’t much damage or injuries. 

However, it is another reminder that earthquakes can happen just about anywhere. 

8. Eastern Tennessee

Source: William Bledsoe / iStock via Getty Images

  • Location: Near McMinnville, TN
  • Year: 1843
  • Magnitude: 6.2 – 6.5

Another Unexpected Earthquake

Source: Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Tennessee does not get that many earthquakes, though there are a few very small rumbles from time to time! Back in 1843, a significant earthquake caused several landslides, leading to damage. 

Luckily, there weren’t many people in the region at the time, so injuries and damage were minimal. Today, a strong earthquake in the area would likely do far more. 

9. Hebron, Nebraska

Source: Peter Aiken/Getty Images

  • Location: Hebron, Nebraska
  • Year: 1935
  • Magnitude: 6.8

A Rural Earthquake

Nebraska | Omaha skyline and lake at Autumn
Source: Davel5957 / iStock via Getty Images

While this earthquake was pretty powerful, it struck a rural region of Nebraska, leading to very little damage. However, it was felt across several states. It’s another reminder that the Great Plains region can experience earthquakes, though they are rare. 

10. Compton, California

Santa+Ana+California+skyline | Los Angeles, California Skyline as seen from Dodger Stadium
Source: kenlund / Flickr

  • Location: Compton, California
  • Year: 1933
  • Magnitude: 6.3

A Hint At What’s to Come?

Los Angeles, California, USA downtown cityscape.
Source: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

While California is known for earthquakes, Compton does not get them very often. This town near Los Angeles is heavily populated, and this earthquake caused major damage. Buildings were destroyed, and several injuries were reported. 

People often point to this earthquake when they talk about the possibility of another earthquake in LA. Today, the region is much more heavily populated!

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