Sonora, Mexico - 03 May 1887

Origin Time: 22:13 UTC
Location: 30.8°N 109.1°W
Felt Area: 1,200,000 km2 (460,000 mi2)
Magnitude assigned: MS = 7.4

On May 3, 1887, a large earthquake occurred in the region of the Teras Mountains of Sonora, Mexico. Intensities were as high as VIII to IX near the epicenter. The earthquake produced much damage in the city of Bavispe, Mexico: several roofs collapsed, the church was completely destroyed, and at least 42 people were killed. Sever geological effect in the epicentral region were noted:

Millions of cubic feet of rocks were thrown from the mountains. Cliffs of solid crystalline rock shattered as if by explosions.

Aguilera (1920) noted the formation of faulting, fissures, and depressions.

The earthquake's effects were not confined to Mexico. Buildings were damaged in several Arizona cities (Dallas Morning News, May 5, 1887). Landslides were also noted in southern Arizona. The earthquake was felt as far north as Albuquerque, New Mexico and as far east as El Paso and Fort Davis in Texas.

Intensities in El Paso were probably as high as VI. The Taylor County News (May 13, 1887) described the earthquake as "severe" at El Paso. The Dallas Morning News (May 4, 1887) printed as extensive story on the effects of the shock at El Paso. According to the article, the shaking cracked several buildings. Buildings vibrated and creaked, windows rattled, and clocks stopped. The motion "appeared to be rather slow and regular... Suddenly the floor of the room seemed to rise up several inches and then settle back down, the sensation being similar to that of falling a distance, accompanied with nervousness and nausea." The earthquake also generated a great deal of panic. The following quote from the Dallas Morning News creates a picture of fear and confusion:

Brakemen paled, timid women became frightened, and children were paralyzed with fear. Out of the buildings they rushed pellmell into the streets as the ominous words, "an earthquake," passed around... Business was suspended for the time and self preservation, the first law of nature, asserted itself. Men forgot their avocations and stood awestruck and bewildered in the presence of the unseen, uncommon, and mighty force starting from whence and going where no one could know. Uneasiness as to the return of other shocks prevailed. Nothing else is talked about.

An amusing anecdote concerning the Sonoran earthquake was printed in the El Paso Times (August 17, 1931) following the August 1931 Valentine earthquake. The story told of the effects of the tremor on a courtroom trial in El Paso:

After the quake, it was found everybody had fled the courtroom with one interesting exception. The exception was the prisoner. He alone stayed put, although he could have escaped and been gone forever. I forgot the man's name. He was an American. Anyway, someone recited:
"The boy stood on the burning deck/Whence all but him had fled"
And they voted for acquittal. The defendant was freed by the earthquake and by his own inertia.

The story may have some basis in fact. The Dallas Morning News of May 4, 1887, reported that in El Paso "officers forgot to look after prisoners. Spectators and court in common with other mortals felt a desire to be out of doors."



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