A Jolly Little Earthquake

Today was quite a beautiful late summer day here in Northern Virginia; sunny, with a high temperature this afternoon of 82°F, low humidity, and a light breeze.  And, just to make the day complete, at 13:51  EDT we had a jolly little earthquake.  The epicenter was in Mineral VA, a small town about 87 miles southwest of Washington DC; the magnitude of the quake was estimated by the US Geological Survey [USGS] as 5.8 on the Richter Scale. There have been three aftershocks, the most recent (at 20:04 EDT) being the largest, at magnitude 4.2.

The initial quake was definitely perceptible here; I happened to be at home, and felt the house shake and heard it creaking (it’s a wood frame building) for 15-20 seconds.   Having lived in California for a while, I’d experienced earthquakes before, so I was pretty sure of what was happening.  We had one or two small items fall off of the bookshelves, but fortunately they were not breakable.  I haven’t found any other damage (nor did I expect to).  The dogs got a bit hyper during the event, but reverted to their usual lethargy fairly quickly.

The response of the local media was amazing to see, and amazingly over the top.  There were some instances of structural damage reported, most notably at the Washington National Cathedral, where some stone spires at the top of one of the building’s towers were damaged.  The Embassy of Ecuador also suffered some damage from the collapse of brick chimneys, and there were some other isolated cases of property damage.  All of this was described in language that was frequently more lurid than sensible.  One TV reporter started her piece by saying that she would report on this afternoon’s “surprise earthquake”.   These are, of course, always more troublesome than the regularly scheduled earthquakes.  Some government agencies and businesses sent their employees home early, creating several large traffic jams at novel times and places, and adding a good crop of fender-benders to the overall festivities

I do understand that earthquakes are not common in this part of the US; the last one of comparable magnitude in Virginia occurred in 1897.  People tend to be more fearful of novel things, and things they don’t understand.  But, as with incidents of terrorism, there is a danger that our response will cause more problems than the original event.

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