Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake a rarity in Virginia – aftershocks expected

W & L Seismogram

It was a bumpy Tuesday afternoon in Roanoke and most of the Eastern seaboard. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake was felt from Georgia to Toronto, Canada and west as far as Illinois. “There will be aftershocks,” said John Hole, Professor of Geosciences at Virginia Tech.

The professor was right as a 4.2 magnitude aftershock hit Fuvanna County at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night.

The quake occurred at 1:50 p.m. and lasted about 20 seconds. It was the largest earthquake in Virginia since the Giles County earthquake of 1897 that also measured 5.8 in magnitude.

The epicenter was located in Mineral, Virginia in Louisa County population 430. Mayor Pam Harlowe said, “everyone in town is quite shaken up.” As she rode around checking the small city she saw that all the brick chimneys of the historic town had crumbled but there were no injuries. Schools had cracks and were closed.

“It is a good time to clean out cabinets since they were already emptied for us,” Harlowe said with a nervous laugh. “The little town of Mineral is only one square mile in size and the older homes are structurally weak anyway,” said Harlowe.

Residents described their experience differently. Some thought it sounded like a train while others described it like a big wind or explosion. Those in vehicles didn’t feel anything. Mineral’s local grocery store had all shelves emptied into the aisle.

Lynn Petty Payne of Glen Allen was very close to the epicenter. She said, “Our whole house shook hard. There was a very loud rumble; I could see the walls moving. I thought a train must have derailed. I ran outside, but there were no trains passing by. Then I saw my neighbors running outside.”

Sue Preddy of Roanoke said she was under a beauty solon hair dryer and “her head kept hitting the sides – she thought the dryer was malfunctioning.”

Roanoke City’s Mike Guzo, Emergency Management Coordinator put out a message saying what people should do in an earthquake. He said to remember that it could be a foreshock and there could be another one even stronger. He said to “drop to the ground” and “take cover under a sturdy table” at the first sign of a quake.

Roanoke County elementary schools sent students home a little early. The high schools and middle schools were evacuated safely and the buildings were checked for damage. All were deemed safe.

From Virginia Tech

The quake was the largest on the East Coast since 1897. National Monuments closed, as aftershocks were highly likely. Amtrak was inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure.

A water pipe burst flooding the pentagon and though flights resumed at JFK and Newark there were delays. The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. sustained damage.

Nuclear power plants are dangerous in quakes. As they were designed to do two Nuclear reactors at the North Anna nuclear power facility in Louisa County shut down safely.

There was a crack in the Washington Monument and to break the tension one tourist said that it was leaning but he could not tell if “it was to the left or to the right.”

All government buildings in D.C. were evacuated including the National Mall. At a Capitol police briefing they said that they were going through all federal office buildings to ensure they were safe.

Governor Bob McDonnell issued a statement saying in part, “All indications are that emergency response plans and orderly evacuations have gone well … I would like to encourage all Virginians to check on neighbors and loved ones and to continue cooperating with law enforcement and emergency personnel. All resources of the Commonwealth have been put on alert to assist in any way necessary as we move forward.”

Washington and Lee geology professor David Harbor shows James Crawford '58 the seismograph.

Members of the Washington and Lee University community had made their way to the Geology Department in the Science Center, where the department’s two seismographs had captured the earthquake on seismograms.

“There are earthquakes in this part of the country, but they are relatively rare events,” said Paul Low, a visiting assistant professor of geology at W&L. “With the preliminary estimate of a 5.9 on the Richter scale, this would actually be a historic event. The largest previous earthquake in Virginia was also 5.9, in 1897 in Giles County, Va.”

“We’re in an area that hasn’t received a lot of tectonic activity for a very long time,” Low said.

Many native Californians were unfazed by the “moderate tremor.” Californians experience such tremors often and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Don’t tell that to some Virginians – this event will be the topic of discussion for a very long time.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Local Events


Comments (2)

Jack Mcguire

August 24th, 2011 at 12:36 PM    

I feel kinda ripped off because I didn’t feel a thing.


August 24th, 2011 at 5:42 PM    

Jack I’m sure there is someone that would be happy to shake you :)

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