Earthquakes unleash ‘lateral’ torture

Consult engineer to determine which seismic retrofit program is best for your home

Think earthquakes are just the curse of nutty Californians? Think again. Over the centuries, severe earthquakes have occurred in surprising places throughout the United States–they just happen to have struck before the country was as populous as it is now. During 1811 and 1812, for example, no less than three major earthquakes struck the little town of New Madrid, Mo., about as close to the "earthquake-free" American heartland as you can get. Seismologists believe these quakes registered 8.6, 8.4, and 8.7 on the Richter scale–as powerful as any Pacific Coast quake of the last 100 years. Another severe earthquake struck Charleston, S.C., in 1886, calling the wisdom of that city's renowned brick architecture into question, if only briefly. In fact, about 10 percent of the world's earthquakes occur outside zones of known seismicity. Ironically, these are the most dangerous quakes of all, since the regions they strike are often totally unprepared to withstand them. Buildings...