5.9 earthquake rocks, Virginia, D.C.

Strongest Virginia quake since 1879 damages apartment water lines here

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, as people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley braced for possible inland rains and wind from Hurricane Irene’s projected path north up the Eastern Seaboard they got an unexpected jolt.

At 1:51 PM as this reporter was having lunch with a friend at Elements on South Royal Avenue the building was shaken by what was reported to be a 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered 4 miles from both Louisa and Mineral, Virginia. A quick map check of the USGS website indicated the epicenter triangulated by Charlottesville to the west, Fredericksburg and Richmond to the northeast and southeast, respectively.

According to the USGS the earthquake was centered at 38N latitude and 78W longitude in an area known as the Central Virginia Seismic Zone. Weaker earthquakes in the 4.0 range to 5.0 range are reported as typical of this zone.

ABC TV 7 in DC reported the quake to be the strongest one in Virginia since 1879.

The USGS reports that 4.0 quakes can typically be felt 60 miles away and 5.0 quake as far away as 300 miles, with damage typical as far as 25 miles from the epicenter of a 5.0 quake.

The Associated Press reported that two nuclear reactors operated by Dominion Power in Louisa County near Lake Anna within 25 miles of Mineral were undamaged. Those reactors were automatically shut down near the time of the quake. Four emergency diesel generators were operating key safety systems at the nuclear plants, according to AP.

The quake rolled through Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and into the Northern Shenandoah Valley. One co-patron at our Tuesday afternoon lunch stop, Edward Jones broker George Karnes, estimated what he felt as a 2.0 to 2.5 tremor. We were unable to verify or dispute Karnes’ guess at the strength of the quake as it reached Front Royal.

Local damage

Property Manager Teresa Cherry of the Shenandoah Commons Apartment Complex off Westminster Drive told us initial reports indicated damage, primarily to water lines, in nine of 10 buildings in the complex. Some residents allowed to return to their apartments were advised not to use their stoves that evening. However following an inspection of all units it appeared only five residents and two pets were in need of temporary accommodations to facilitate repairs.

On the scene at Shenandoah Commons at 5 PM, County Fire and Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano said it seemed the county would not have to open an emergency shelter at one of the public high schools due to the small number of displaced residents. Local Red Cross has traditionally been able to utilize local motels for families displaced by residential fires in the county.

DC area damage

Some 70 miles to our east, where nerves are usually a bit more taught due to the national political machinations for control or destruction of the federal governmental apparatus, the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings were evacuated due to the rolling tremor. DC-area TV reports showed large numbers of people milling about outside buildings in downtown Washington, including headquarters of the Washington Post.

Despite the evacuation of their building, the Post reported the quake was felt as far north as Boston, as far south as Anderson, South Carolina, and northwest to Columbus, Ohio.

The Virginia Department of Transportation initially reported no known damage to bridges or roadways. However damage reports began rolling in as the afternoon progressed.

A spire was reported to have collapsed at National Cathedral in DC, closing that building to the public. News 7 DC also reported that a building on the 6100 block of Oxon Hill Road in Prince Georges County, Maryland had collapsed. No initial details on the type or age of that building were available.

Our initial experience of the earthquake was at our downtown lunch stop. Several customers quickly recognized the source of the vibrations and rattling silverware as an earthquake. When several Elements customers countered they believed a nearby train was the culprit, another asked, “WHAT train?”

Elements owner David Gedney, who rushed outside to check his building exterior, returned quickly to report that his damage was limited to five broken plates upstairs in his Apartment 2G dinner restaurant.

Rockland report

As the quake rolled through Rockland our northside correspondent Malcolm Barr Sr. and his wife Carol were in their kitchen. Barr, a self-acclaimed veteran of many earthquakes while working in Hawaii, strolled to his front door to see “what piece of heavy equipment neighbor Thomas McGeath was driving by on Rockland Road.” Meanwhile, Barr reported his wife was talking “Armageddon” and their future daughter-in-law in Tennessee called to see if everyone was okay.

Echoing initial reactions by some of our fellow Elements lunchtime patrons, Barr observed, “Sounded like a train rumbling by.”

While used to such occurrences during his stints in Hawaii, Barr added, “I guess since we don’t have many earthquakes around here, I couldn’t quite believe my wife when she said we were in the middle of one. Those in Hilo (Hawaii) regularly bounced things off the walls; then one of the volcanoes would treat us to another ‘fireworks’ display.”

This report will be updated as information becomes available.


Residents of 25 Shenandoah Commons Way await verdict on whether they will be able to sleep at home following earthquake damage to water lines in their building.

Residents of 25 Shenandoah Commons Way await verdict on whether they will be able to sleep at home following earthquake damage to water lines in their building.

WC Fire & Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano speaks with Shenandoah Commons residents.

WC Fire & Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano speaks with Shenandoah Commons residents.

TV 7 DC shows photo of North Anna Nuclear Power Plant after emergency diesel generators kicked in following automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactors after earthquake.

TV 7 DC shows photo of North Anna Nuclear Power Plant after emergency diesel generators kicked in following automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactors after earthquake.

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I live in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and our building felt the tremors from this earthquake. Sudbury’s downtown business core were evacuated and sent home shorlty after. Engineers will be going in to inspect any damages.

  2. Pictures on Facebook Page for Shenandoah Fire & Rescue shows pictures of damage to buildings in Culpeper.

  3. Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!


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