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The social impact of earthquakes

The Modified Mercalli Scale, from USGS Circular 1045, "Lessons Learned from the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989."
Edited by the Earth Sciences & Map Library, 2/1/94.


Not felt by people, except rarely under especially favorable circumstances.


Felt indoors only by persons at rest, especially on upper floors. Some hanging objects may swing.


Felt indoors by several. Hanging objects may swing slightly. Vibration like passing of light trucks. Duration estimated. May not be recognized as an earthquake.


Felt indoors by many, outdoors by few. Hanging objects swing. Vibration like passing of heavy trucks; or sensation of a jolt like a heavy ball striking the walls. Standing automobiles rock. Windows, dishes, doors rattle. Wooden walls and frames may creak.


Felt indoors and outdoors by nearly everyone; direction estimated. Sleepers wakened. Liquids disturbed, some spilled. Small unstable objects displaced or upset; some dishes and glassware broken. Doors swing; shutters, pictures move. Pendulum clocks stop, start, change rate. Swaying of tall trees and poles sometimes noticed.


Felt by all. Damage slight. Many frightened and run outdoors. Persons walk unsteadily. Windows, dishes, glassware broken. Knickknacks and books fall off shelves; pictures off walls. Furniture moved or overturned. Weak plaster and masonry cracked.


Difficult to stand. Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary buildings; considerable in badly designed or poorly built buildings. Noticed by drivers of automobiles. Hanging objects quiver. Furniture broken. Weak chimneys broken. Damage to masonry; fall of plaster, loose bricks, stones, tiles, and unbraced parapets. Small slides and caving in along sand or gravel banks. Large bells ring.


People frightened. Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable in ordinary substantial buildings, partial collapse; great in poorly built structures. Steering of automobiles affected. Damage or partial collapse to some masonry and stucco. Failure of some chimneys, factory stacks, monuments, towers, elevated tanks. Frame houses moved on foundations if not bolted down; loose panel walls thrown out. Decayed pilings broken off. Branches broken from trees. Changes in flow or temperature of springs and wells. Cracks in wet ground and on steep slopes.


General panic. Damage considerable in specially designed structures; great in substantial buildings with some collapse. General damage to foundations; frame structures, if not bolted, shifted off foundations and thrown out of plumb. Serious damage to reservoirs. Underground pipes broken. Conspicuous cracks in ground; liquefaction.


Most masonry and frame structures destroyed with their foundations. Some well-built wooden structures and bridges destroyed. Serious damage to dams, dikes, embankments. Landslides on river banks and steep slopes considerable. Water splashed onto banks of canals, rivers, lakes. Sand and mud shifted horizontally on beaches and flat land. Rails bent slightly.


Few, if any masonry structures remain standing. Bridges destroyed. Broad fissures in ground; earth slumps and landslides widespread. Undergound pipelines completely out of service. Rails bent generally.


Damage nearly total. Waves seen on ground surfaces. Large rock masses displaced. Lines of sight and level distorted. Objects thrown upward into the air.

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