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All shook up: Rare earthquake hits Queens, rattling Roosevelt Island and Manhattan

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A rare earthquake gave New York quite the rollicking start to the new year.

The minor tremor struck early Tuesday morning, rattling residents in northwest Queens and Manhattan — and causing power disruptions on nearby Roosevelt Island.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the 1.7 magnitude earthquake occurred at about 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 2 about a half-mile to the east-northeast of Astoria. The tremor was located at 5 kilometers below street level, leading to a surge of emergency calls in western Queens and the Upper East Side. 

The small tremor caused power disruptions and explosions on Roosevelt Island, according to published reports. There were, however, no injuries reported.

Initial responders conducted structural assessments on Roosevelt Island where explosions were heard. Con Edison also conducted an investigation and made repairs in the affected areas.

Earthquakes in New York are quite few and far between. The last quake to rattle the city’s metropolitan area occurred last May, when a 2.3 magnitude tremor hit Westchester County.

According to Cornell University, earthquakes around the Empire State generally occur in areas well north of New York City, with the strongest having taken place in the Adirondack Mountains. 

Moving fault lines below the surface cause earthquakes. New York City sits atop several fault lines that are not as notoriously active as in places like California. As NY1 pointed out in a 2018 report, four of the city’s fault lines traverse parts of Manhattan and the Bronx: the 125th Street Fault in Harlem, the Dyckman Street Fault in Inwood, the Mosholu Parkway Fault in the Bronx; and the East River Fault. 

One of the stronger earthquake events to impact New York occurred in August 2011, when a tremor in Virginia sent shockwaves hundreds of miles north to New York, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard. That event caused little reported damage, but rattled plenty of New Yorkers, forcing brief evacuations of City Hall and the New York Stock Exchange. 

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