Dupont Circle packed around 2:00 p.m. this afternoon in the period following a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that rocked D.C.
The earthquake (and a sizable aftershock while writing this) has shaken me out of my posting slumber. Your grand-kids may never hear about it, but that won’t change the fact that we lived it. It was not a D.C.-only earthquake, or even centered right on the doorstep. But, D.C. is the closest big city to the epicenter other than (much smaller) Richmond. And Virginia (the town of Mineral to be exact) is, at the very least, in Washington’s backyard.
Weighing in at 5.8 on the moment magnitude scale, this earthquake is believed to be the second strongest on record in Virginia, the strongest in the zone it occurred, and the strongest in the area in well over 100 years. Out on the West Coast people might not even notice shaking of this level, right? Well, not we should not go that far. But, it probably would not make the news it does around here.
While taking quite a shake, Washington has come off largely unscathed. Still, a somewhat surprising (should not be considering un-reinforced brick buildings are a norm) number of damage reports continue to trickle in, including a number within the District itself. Scattered wall, roofing and chimney collapses, interior objects falling, and the occasional crack or two appear to be the norm.
Yet, some well-known landmarks in the city took either a slight hit or faced at least brief scares. Several of the higher spires on towers at the National Cathedral fell off in the shaking, and some concern briefly focused on the Washington Monument which seems to have sustained some cracks. The underground Metro remained open, but track speeds were reduced to 15 mph until the full system could be inspected. By the time I hit the station around 5:30, incoming volume was extraordinarily low for a weekday even though platforms were relatively crowded. I got the first train I saw.
Perhaps the weirdest part of this earthquake for someone who has been through large earthquakes — Northridge (1994) and Landers/Big Bear (1992) as examples — was seeing D.C.’s streets fill with people. It might be that I’ve just not been in a big city for a moderate to large quake — those noted above were felt in the rural high desert after being shaken from bed at night.
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 around the corner, it was interesting to hear many folks (especially those who had not felt an earthquake before) in and around the area first imagined “was that a bomb?” as the shaking got underway. Of course, as those first queasy moments turned into many seconds ultimately followed by stronger surface waves and creaking of buildings, those thoughts were often replaced with new ones. Then there was the frustration of a mobile network brought to its knees (hopefully we never really need it at a critical time).
People always asked what I thought about earthquakes when they learned I grew up in southern California. Even though they were perhaps my first real interest in science, I have not missed them at all. Feeling a “small” earthquake of note in a region with older buildings and lesser building codes than much of the West Coast is enough reminder, even if I end up having to wait 100 years for another one like it.