Earthquake unlikely to cause much property damage in Philly, experts say

The city sits on stable ground, minimizing the potential for a significant impact.

Philadelphia skyine

Philadelphia skyine. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Philadelphians were treated to the tremors of a 4.8-magnitude earthquake Friday morning — a rare but not uncommon experience for East Coast denizens.

And while all that rumbling certainly caused a stir, experts say homeowners have little to fear when it comes to property damage.

“If things didn’t fall off the shelves or off the wall, the home has probably not experienced any noticeable damage at all,” said Fred Baumert, principal at regional structural engineering firm Keast & Hood.

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That doesn’t completely rule out the possibility, said Baumert. Existing property damage can be exacerbated by an earthquake. But the earthquakes that the Philadelphia region experiences tend to be on the mild side, meaning they are less likely to cause any new damage to a home.

“Everyone hears the word earthquake and they think of what just happened in Taiwan,” said Baumert. “The ones here are thousands of times less intense.”

For Philly homeowners who want some peace of mind, experts suggest checking for cracks in plaster interior walls, as well as “stair step” cracks on exterior walls. Those are cracks that typically form in the corners of a foundation or from the corner of a window down to the foundation.

It also would be reasonable to check the home’s utilities to make sure everything is functioning properly. That includes checking the water lines and water heater, flushing toilets and turning faucets on and off.

The epicenter of Friday’s earthquake was pinpointed to Lebanon in North Jersey — more than 60 miles from Philadelphia, according to the U.S Geological Survey. The quake hit shortly before 10:30 a.m. and was felt throughout a sizable portion of the East Coast, with residents reporting rumbling in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

A property in Northeast Philadelphia may have sustained some damage, according to police.  The report was unconfirmed, however, and it’s unclear if the damage was earthquake-related.

During a news conference held Friday, department officials recommended that residents periodically take photos of their homes to assist with any potential damage assessments.

In 2011, the aftershocks of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia were felt in Philadelphia. About a month later, structural cracks were discovered in City Hall. Officials believed they were caused by the earthquake.

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