Virginia is for lovers — and apparently earthquakes today. An earthquake centered near Reston, Va., Tuesday afternoon rattled nerves and homes as it was felt as far away as New York City, Ohio, Michigan and other states. The U.S. Geological Survey registered the quake at 5.9, although some preliminary reports listed it as 6.0 and 5.8 with an epicenter about near Mineral, Va., about 39 miles from Richmond.
This quake had a very shallow and poorly constrained depth of about 0.6 mile, meaning it was easily felt over a wide region. Shallower quakes are more easily felt with greater shaking intensity. The quake was registered at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time and, according to an Associated Press report, the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Other federal buildings in the east were evacuated also.
There were some reports of the collapse of vacant buildings in New Jersey and as far away as Chicago. Some radio stations reported receiving calls from listeners who felt the shaking.
One local resident who lives in Colonial Beach, Va., about 80 miles east of the epicenter currently is without cell service following the quake. Caren Haug noted that the quake started slowly and at first she thought it was a truck passing near her home.
“…It quickly became a bit more violent and jerky. We had some books move on shelves and light fixtures sway. It felt like it lasted just under 30 seconds. Once it stopped, we did feel some slight tremoring and then it stopped. The only damage we see is some additional concrete cracks in our driveway, with widening of some older cracks and a slight bit of buckling,” Haug said.
Haug said that her husband heard rumbling that grew louder during the quake and “once it ramped up in intensity, we all moved to doorways. Right now, I’m concerned about the proximity of the quake to Lake Anna, a nuclear power plant.”
According to NBC Washington, though, the nuclear reactors at North Anna Power Station were shut down as part of normal emergency procedures following the quake.
While Virginia and the East Coast as a rule are not common locations for earthquakes, they are not unheard of. An April 1959 earthquake shook southwestern Virginia, damaging chimneys, cracking plaster and knocking pictures from walls. The largest earthquake in the eastern United States struck Charleston, S.C., in September 1886. That quake was believed to have been 7.3 in magnitude and killed 60 people while causing major damage to structures.
While there is concern that today’s quake could be a foreshock for a larger quake, it is impossible to know if this is the case. The only thing residents anywhere can do is plan ahead and be aware of what is happening. Have a plan in place and know what to do if a large earthquake strikes. Having plenty of emergency supplies on hand — including food and water — and an evacuation plan in place is the best defense when Mother Nature strikes.