New Mexico

Earthquake History

Most of New Mexico's historical seismicity has been concentrated in the Rio Grande Valley between Socorro and Albuquerque. About half of the earthquakes of intensity VI or greater (Modified Mercalli intensity) that occurred in the State between 1868 and 1973 were centered in this region.

The earliest reported earthquake in New Mexico was an intensity V tremor that occurred near Socorro on April 20, 1855. In the years that followed, Socorro was struck by numerous low to moderate intensity earthquakes. Most of these caused little or no damage and were felt over a small area. However, beginning on July 2, 1906, and lasting well into 1907 the area was affected by shocks almost daily. There were three fairly severe shocks in this series. The first was an intensity VII tremor that struck on July 12 and cracked some adobe walls and threw others down. Ground fissures and visible waves on the surface were reported with this earthquake. Another shock of intensity VII on July 16, was felt at Raton, about 370 km northeast of Socorro and at Douglas, Arizona, about 420 km southwest. The epicenter was probably about 16 km west of Socorro. On November 15, an intensity VII shock was felt over an area of about 250,000 square kilometers. Rumbling sounds were heard during this earthquake. Later shocks occurred at Socorro on July 18, 1913 (intensity V), January 31, 1919 (intensity IV-V), and February 1, 1919 (intensity V). An intensity V earthquake cause slight damage at Socorro on January 7, 1934. The most recent shock to affect the area occurred on July 3, 1961, causing slight damage at Socorro (intensity VI).

The towns of Bernardo and La Joya, about 30 kilometers and 40 kilometers north of Socorro, have been the center of a number of moderately strong earthquakes. On February 20, 1935, an intensity VI shock damaged adobe and concrete buildings at Bernardo. This earthquake was accompanied by a thunderous roar. On July 22, 1960, an intensity V tremor knocked some items from shelves at La Joya. The next day, a weak adobe wall was toppled and adobe buildings were cracked by an intensity VI earthquake. The total felt area of this shock was about 7,800 square kilometers. One day later on July 24, an intensity V shock broke two small windows at Boys Ranch and awakened many persons at Bernardo.

Belen, about 56 kilometers south of Albuquerque, experienced a series of earthquakes that lasted from December 12 to 30, 1935. Loud subterranean sounds accompanied a strong shock on December 17, that cracked the brick wall of an old public school buildings in Belen. In addition, there were reports of fallen plaster and small objects shaken from shelves. Numerous weak intermittent tremors were felt in the area, with additional slight damage from tremors on December 19 and 21.

The area around Los Lunas was affected by a series of earthquakes in 1893 that lasted for about 3 months. On September 7, 1893, five strong shocks, the most severe of intensity VII, struck Los Lunas. Many adobe buildings, weakened by earlier disturbances, were thrown down. Felt reports were also received from Sabainal.

Albuquerque has been the center of several moderately strong shocks. On July 12, 1893, three intensity V earthquakes shook every house in the city. Clocks stopped, and one report told of a chandelier swinging for 10 minutes. On December 3, 1930, two distinct shocks cracked plaster and dishes. A strong localized shock of intensity VI on February 4, 1931, caused people to leave houses and created a near panic situation in theaters. Many people reported they were thrown from bed. Some building damage and landslides occurred. On November 6, 1947, Zamora, slightly east of Albuquerque, was shaken by an earthquake. Cracks were reported in plaster and a fireplace.

Minor plaster cracks in a bank building in Albuquerque were reported from an intensity V earthquake on November 3, 1954. The shock was also felt at Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Sandia Pueblo. A lighter shock on November 2 was felt over the same area. An earthquake, measured at 3.8, on November 28, 1970, awakened thousands at Albuquerque. The shock had a felt area of 3,000 square kilometers. The roof of a barn collapsed and a rooftop air-conditioner shook loose and fell through a skylight. Plaster cracks, broken windows, and many other instances of minor damage were reported. Many burglar alarms were activated. On January 4, 1971, another shock caused considerable minor damage in Albuquerque, principally at the University of Albuquerque.

An earthquake with strong local effects occurred on May 18, 1918, in Santa Fe county. At Cerrillos, people were thrown off their feet, a break in the earth's surface was noted, and fallen plaster was reported (intensity VII - VIII). Similar effects were noted at Stanley.

On January 22, 1966, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake centered near Dulce affected about 39,000 square kilometers of northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Nearly every building in Dulce was damaged to some degree; many buildings had exterior and interior damage and considerable chimney damage was noted. The principal property damage was sustained at the Bureau of Indian Affairs School and Dormitory Complex and at the Dulce Independent Schools. Rockfalls and landslides occurred along Highway 17, about 15 to 25 km west of Dulce; in addition some minor cracks appeared in the highway. Minor damage was also reported at Lumberton, NM, and Edith, Colorado.

A magnitude 4.1 shock on December 24, 1973, occurred near Grants. The tremor caused minor damage in the Grants area and was also felt at Laguna, Bluewater, and Fort Wingate. Maximum reported intensity was V.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 7, Number 3, May-June 1975, by Carl von Hake.

For a list of earthquakes that have occurred since this article was written, use the Earthquake Search.