Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Virginia, East Coast Rocked By Magnitude 5.8 Quake

Tremors from a magnitude 5.9 earthquake on Tuesday afternoon in Virginia prompted evacuations in the Pentagon and Capitol building and was felt as far away as Ohio and Toronto.
The quake rocked Virginia just before 1:55 p.m. [E.T.], and authorities said the epicenter appeared to be in Louisa County, about 40 miles northwest of Richmond. The epicenter is not far from Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna nuclear plant, where the earthquake knocked out power, but the utility manually shut down both nuclear units without incident.

"We did lose on-site power, but all the diesel generators are up and running," Dominion spokesman Richard Zuercher said 30 minutes after the quake. "Everything appears to be operating just fine."

The quake- the largest in Virginia since May 5, 1897, according to the U.S. Geological Survey- shook buildings and employees were ordered outside across Richmond and other cities in Virginia. Within minutes, Richmond police began receiving calls about possible property damage.
So far, there have been no reports of any casualties or injuries, but there are scattered reports of some structural damage around Mineral, VA and 90 miles to the north in the Washington D.C. area.

The town of Culpepper, VA was placed under a state of emergency and the local jail evacuated immediately after the Tuesday afternoon quake.

To the north, the National Parks Service began shutting down monuments across Washington D.C. as a precaution.

The central spire on Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral- the highest point in the District of Columbia- was damaged in the quake, with cross shaped finial stones being knocked off the top of three out of the four spires and one leaning inward.

Both the Pentagon and US Capitol Building were briefly evacuated- Congress is in recess for the summer, but staffers were still present at the Capitol building.

In Washington D.C.'s Union Station, the quake reportedly knocked down some ceiling tiles in the main concourse, although there was no reports of any injuries. Amtrak was operating trains between Baltimore and Washington D.C. at a restricted speed while commuter railways MARC and Virginia Railway Express briefly suspended operations as track, structures and wiring leading in and out of Union Station were inspected for damage.

Further south, the two main rail carriers operating closer to the epicenter- CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern- restricted freight trains to operating speeds of 10-15 MPH while tracks, bridges, tunnels and signals were being inspected for damage by Maintenance of Way personnel.

Airports throughout the Mid Atlantic region suspended flights on Tuesday afternoon. Dulles Airport, Reagan National, BWI, Atlantic City, Newark, Philadelphia and New York's JFK were among the international airports that had suspended flights with flights resuming by Tuesday night in the New York area. The quake reportedly registered as strong as 5.4 on the Richter scale in New York state.

The Mineral quake comes not even 24 hours after the USGS reported a magnitude 5.3 earthquake at 11:46 PM Mountain Time outside of Trinidad, CO on Monday night. Records indicate it was the strongest quake in Colorado in over a century, although there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Geologists have indicated that the Colorado and Virginia quakes are unrelated.

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