This is the Biggest and Most Damaging Earthquake in New York History


People don’t usually think of New York when they think of earthquakes, but the state has had some big ones in the past. The Cornwall-Massena earthquake, which happened on September 5, 1944, was the strongest. It went through New York and Canada and caused damage and fear in those places.

Magnitude and Strength of Earthquake

With a magnitude of 5.8, the Cornwall-Massena earthquake was the biggest one to ever hit New York. A lot of people felt it, from Maine to Maryland and from Michigan to Massachusetts. Its center was about 15 miles south of Cornwall, Ontario, which is on the border between New York and Canada.

An eight-point scale called the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale, which measures how strong an earthquake is, said that the quake was “Severe.” Based on this measure, an intensity VIII earthquake can do a lot of damage to buildings that weren’t built well, some damage to buildings that were built well, and fear among people. Some of the things that people who saw the Cornwall-Massena earthquake said happened were:

  • Cracks in walls, chimneys, and foundations
  • Falling plaster, bricks, and tiles
  • Broken windows and glassware
  • Toppled furniture and appliances
  • Disrupted water, gas, and electricity services
  • Landslides and rockfalls
  • Changes in water levels and flows
  • Fissures and sand boils in the ground
  • Loud rumbling and roaring noises

What the Earthquake Did and How It Changed Things

There was damage to many buildings and structures in New York and Canada during the Cornwall-Massena earthquake. The towns of Massena, NY, and Cornwall, ON were hit the hardest. In 1944, the damage was thought to have cost about $2 million, which is about $30 million today. These were some of the most important buildings that were damaged:

  • The Massena Central School had big cracks in its floors and walls, so it had to be closed and staff had to be moved out.
  • The Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School’s roof fell and its chimney was taken away.
  • The locks and gates on the Cornwall Canal were broken, so the canal had to be cleared so that it could be inspected.
  • The St. Lawrence Seaway, which was still being built at the time and had some of its supplies and equipment destroyed or moved
  • The Massena Power Dam’s engines and generators had to be turned off for a while because of shaking and power outages.

Some people were hurt and killed by the quake, mostly by falling objects and heart attacks. The exact number of deaths is unknown, but some sources say that the earthquake killed about 15 people and hurt about 150 others.

People who lived in the places that were hit by the earthquake were also scared and confused because they were not used to such a natural event. A lot of people ran out of their homes and places of work, some with their kids or things with them. While World War II was still going on, some people thought the quake was caused by a bomb or an airplane crash. Some people said they saw strange lights and colors in the sky, which were afterward thought to be caused by atmospheric events or optical illusions.

What Caused the Earthquake and What It Means

Rocks called tectonic plates moved along the St. Lawrence rift system, which is a zone of cracks and fractures that goes from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and caused the Cornwall-Massena earthquake. As compared to the Eurasian and African plates, the North American plate is slowly moving westward. The rift system is part of this plate. Earthquakes can happen sometimes because of the stress and strain that this movement causes, especially near the edges of the rift system.

While the Cornwall-Massena earthquake was the biggest and worst one to hit the St. Lawrence rift system, it wasn’t the only one. A number of small to big earthquakes have happened in the past because of the rift system. These include the 5.8-magnitude Montreal earthquake in 1732, the 6.2-magnitude Charlevoix-Kamouraska earthquake in 1925, and the 5.9-magnitude Saguenay earthquake in 1988. Some studies say the rift system can also cause earthquakes that are even bigger, up to magnitude 7.

The Cornwall-Massena earthquake showed how dangerous and risky it is to live in New York and other parts of the eastern US and Canada. The western United States has more regular and predictable earthquakes along the well-defined San Andreas fault system. The eastern United States, on the other hand, has more random and unpredictable earthquakes along fault systems that aren’t well known.

Also, there are more heavily populated and urbanized places and older, less stable buildings in the eastern United States than in the western United States. These things make it more likely that damage and deaths will happen during a big earthquake.

The Cornwall-Massena earthquake also made people more aware of and interested in studying and keeping an eye on earthquakes in the eastern US and Canada. A lot of seismological sites and networks were set up or grew in the area after the earthquake.

These include the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, the Canadian Seismograph Network, and the Northeastern United States Seismic Network. These networks and sites have made it easier to find and study earthquakes in the area. They have also given researchers and people who are planning for earthquakes useful information and data.


The data shows that the 1944 Cornwall-Massena earthquake was the biggest and worst one to hit New York and Canada. The data also talks about what caused the earthquake and how it happened, as well as the area’s history and geology. The data also shows how the earthquake affected people and infrastructure, as well as the fears and problems they had to deal with. Finally, the data shows the possible seismic risks and hazards that people may face.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.