Posted on 24 Aug 2011
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake based in Virginia sent tremors from the nation’s capital to New York City and New England Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
Buildings throughout major metropolitan centers in the northeast were evacuated after the quake, and tremors were felt as far north as Bath, Maine., and as far south as Hampstead, North Carolina, with some limited reports of damage reported near the quake’s epicenter in Virginia, where a nearby nuclear power plant was taken offline. Amtrak trains were temporarily halted, and cellphone service was disrupted as calls flooded cellular systems.
While there were only limited reports of damage, the breadth of the quake rattled nerves along the Northeast. The streets of downtown
Washington filled with thousands of people on Tuesday afternoon as buildings from the Capitol to the White House were evacuated the 1:51 p.m. quake, which lasted by varying accounts anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds.
Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam, head of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Division of Seismology, said the earthquake occurred in a part of Central Virginia that is known as an area of geologically old faults, created several hundred million years ago when the Appalachian Mountains were forming. The area has frequent small earthquakes; the largest previously recorded was one of magnitude 4.8 in 1875.
“We do expect earthquakes to occur here,” he said. “Not as frequently as in California, but this is not a surprise.” He described the Central Virginia earthquakes as “kind of a randomized reactivation of these geologically old structures” as opposed to the tremors that occur along an active fault such as the San Andreas in California.
In Mineral, Va., a town about of about 500 people located four miles from the quake’s center, residents reported extensive damage to items inside homes. China shattered and pictures fell off walls. The Virginia epicenter was just miles from a decades-old nuclear power plant, the North Anna, operated by Dominion Power in Richmond, where two reactors were taken offline, although there were no reports of damage there.