Helpful Hints On How To Spot Earthquake Damage

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Release date: 
June 4, 2002
Release Number: 
1415-08

Albany, NY -- It's not hard to recognize major earthquake damage: buildings reduced to a pile of rubble, collapsed bridges, mobile homes tossed off their pilings. But how can you spot earthquake damage that may mimic plain old wear and tear or be so subtle it's hard to find?

Those are questions people are asking in upstate New York where the April 20 AuSable Forks earthquake caused enough damage to warrant federal aid to individuals and businesses in six counties. They are important questions, because this "hidden" damage can often present a major safety or building hazard and needs to be repaired.

"We urge anyone who thinks their property was damaged by the quake to call 1-800-621 FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) to register for assistance," said Marianne C. Jackson, Federal Coordinating Officer. "We'll send out an inspector who is trained to identify earthquake damage."

"There are often subtle signs of damage that a trained inspector will recognize," said Edward F. Jacoby, Jr., Director of the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO). "It's better to make that call now and have your home inspected than to discover the damage after the registration period has closed."

State and federal officials suggest that people in Essex, Clinton, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington counties take a walk around the inside and outside of their property and check for damage.

Here are some hints on what to look for:

  • Examine the entire outside of the structure for collapse or obvious movement off the foundation.
  • Check the ground for fissures or areas where the ground may have shifted. Are there any breaks in fence lines or other structures that might indicate nearby damage?
  • Does the building look crooked or out of plumb?
  • Is the floor or roof pulling away or separated from the building supports?
  • Does the floor feel "bouncy", "soggy" or "mushy" when you walk on it? This may indicate damage under the floor.
  • Has anything fallen off the chimney or parapet? Are there any signs of cracks in the chimney's mortar? Such cracks can be fire hazards or allow deadly carbon monoxide to leak into the house.
  • Inspect stairs for stability. If they were solid before the earthquake, and now they wobble when you walk on them, they may be a hazard. Are the banister and supporting columns secure?
  • Are any windows or doors newly jammed or blocked? Can you easily raise and lower windows, or have they become difficult to move since the quake? Do all doors open and close without resistance?
  • Look in the crawl spaces, stairwells, basements, attics and other exposed areas for signs of damage such exposed or cracked beams, roof leaks, and foundation cracks.
  • Check basement floors and exterior walls for cracks and bulges that may indicate more serious problems.
  • Look for damage to ceilings, partitions, light fixtures, the roof, tanks, and other attachments to the main frame of the structure.
  • Check your furnace and hot water heater connections to make sure they are tight and not leaking.
  • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If you are on "city water" and the water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. If you have a well and suspect damage to the well or pipes, do not use the water and call a well company. ...
Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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