This is because some earthquakes are stronger than others, so they cause a bigger impact than smaller ones. Magnitudes of earthquakes are measured using the Richter scale. This scale measures the amount of seismic waves caused by the earthquake. Using this scale, a magnitude 5 earthquake would result in ten times the level of ground shaking as a magnitude 4 earthquake.
Another is the seismic waves that come with an earthquake. There are P waves (which give you more of a shake) and then there is S waves (which cause more of a ‘boat on water’) feel.
For example, the earthquake that happened in the Baja, here in LA we really only felt the S waves, so it kind of felt like you were just rocking on a lay-z-boy.
Shaking also depends very much on the nature of the material. Unconsolidated soil and sediment will shake, and even liquefy, much more than solid rock, even in the identical strength quake.
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