Regina Corcoran's - "Pursuing the American Dream"
Sunday, September 11, 2011
When the earth moves under our feet

There are four forces that affect real estate -- social, economic, governmental and environmental. The environmental forces include all the catastrophic ones such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires and ... earthquakes.

Recently, the lyrics "I feel the earth move under my feet" have taken on a new meaning. Should we put thoughts of global warming on a back burner and consider what's happening under our 10 little piggies? Am I the only one who wonders if the Great Puppeteer might crack the earth open like an egg?

Remember the major earthquakes in Haiti, Mexico, and Chile in 2010? The last six months have marked even more startling events including the 9.0 magnitude quake near Japan on March 11 and ensuing tsunami, followed closely by a 7.1 "aftershock" in that vicinity on April 7. Notable, also, was the Sept. 6 quake of 6.6 magnitude in Sumatra.

Possibly most startling were the ones that hit close to home, where least expected: Virginia's 5.8 magnitude quake on Aug. 23, quickly followed by the Los Angeles and Alaska quakes.

The events in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 will add a chapter to the history books and the repercussions will last for decades. With a magnitude of 8.0 it was the most horrific earthquake on the island in 200 years. Who would believe that only about 45 days later, the earth's crust in Chile would be ripped open by yet another quake? This one was an 8.8 magnitude. Some scientists reported that one was strong enough to move the earth off its orbit by 3 inches and shorten the length of the earth day (the time it takes for the earth to spin once in its orbit around the sun) by 1.26 microseconds.

And then on March 8, 2010, another critical earthquake hit Turkey rated at 6.6 with 100 aftershocks measured at up to 5.5.

These geological occurrences were catastrophic, changing entire cultures for scores of years to come. And, yet, earthquakes are not distinguished by names. How can that be? They have proved to be more terrifying than hurricanes, causing 100 times the death and destruction. And, unlike most natural disasters, they are totally unpredictable. To me, these seem like events of Nostradamus proportions. If the earth is going to crack in half, surely I should eat all the Whoppers I can because I won't have to worry about dying of a heart attack.

I found an interesting website (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/) that answers some of these questions. According to the site, the reason earthquakes don't have names is because there aren't enough to go around. In the last seven days, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and contributing agencies have detected 218 quakes worldwide with a magnitude greater than 4.5. The agencies reported 746 in the United States alone of all magnitudes for the same period.

Clicking the "animations" hotlink at the above website takes the viewer to a map. Red blinking squares show earthquakes in the last hour, blue ones in the last day and yellow the last week. Computer games don't have screens with more flashing lights. So, it's not so much that more earthquakes are occurring, but rather that more are being reported. In 1931, there were 350 seismograph stations worldwide. Today, there are 4,000. And there's a big difference in the speed with which we can report data today versus even a couple decades ago.

According to the USGS, California is not going to fall into the ocean. However, the agency says, someday, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be side by side.

Whatever you do, don't buy a Richter scale on Ebay. As explained by the USGS, "the Richter scale is not a physical device, but a mathematical formula. The magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm of the amplitude of waves recorded on a seismogram at a certain period."

Major earthquakes can influence many facets of our environment including landslides and avalanches. One little-known effect is soil liquefaction. Like the name suggests, the shaking causes granular material, like sand, to lose its strength and transform from a solid to a liquid. Then those things we rely on to be sturdy -- like structures, buildings and bridges -- may tilt or sink into the now soupy ground.

An earthquake has a real affect on real estate with social, economic, governmental and environmental consequences. Earthquakes can cause injury, loss of life, property damage, and even disease.

Regina E. Corcoran, SRA, is a Florida real estate broker, state-certified residential appraiser and residential contractor. She is president of AmeriRealty Corp. and vice president of AmeriMortgage Corp. She can be reached at ReginaECorcoran@cs.com. Corcoran writes her column exclusively for The Citizen. It appears every other Sunday.