SPEAK OUT: Tales of the East Coast Earthquake

Federal and state officials launch campaign to jolt participation in earthquake-readiness drill.

It struck just before 2 p.m., upending an otherwise calm August afternoon with a subterranean spasm of tectonic plates clashing four miles beneath the earth’s surface.

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake of Aug. 23, 2011, lasted more than 30 seconds and radiated thousands of miles from its epicenter beneath Louisa County, VA, according to the U.S. Geological Survey—felt by as much as one-third of the country, from Florida to New England and west nearly to the Mississippi River.

The East Coast’s strongest temblor in more than a century jolted millions of earthquake-uninitiated up and down the eastern seaboard—unnerving some, amusing others, and wreaking upwards of $300 million damage.

Louisa County, VA, took a $75 million hit. One hundred miles away, came largely in the form of Metro delays and cell phone disruptions, while in Washington, D.C., two of the nation’s still bear the quake's toll.

On Thursday, the earthquake’s anniversary, a year’s worth of scientific and disaster-readiness efforts will come to a head as federal scientists and emergency agencies stand alongside officials from Virginia, Maryland and the District at the foot of the Washington Monument, where the quake scattered tourists and forced the monument to shut down for at least two more years.

Their hope is to leverage interest in the anniversary to stir up participation in what USGS says will be one of the largest earthquake drills ever.

Scientists have already bolstered their efforts to map the country’s eastern fault networks and more meticulously catalogue the more than 450 aftershocks that ensued. The deeper scrutiny is helping scientists understand the character—and volatility—of specific faults and get a better sense of the threat posed by future and possibly larger seismic events.

But as that scientific picture takes shape, government agencies remain puzzled by the human reaction during and after the quake.

"Every large earthquake is a learning experience, but it is particularly the case for this Virginia earthquake because of the rarity of such events in the eastern U.S.," Marcia McNutt, USGS director, said in a statement. "For example, what are we doing so right that a record-setting number of East Coast residents know the value to science of submitting their experiences on 'Did You Feel It?,' and yet not enough appropriately responded with 'duck and cover' during the seconds of most intense ground shaking?"

Officials hope to spur millions of participants to be part of the Great SouthEast ShakeOut, when at 10:18 a.m. on Oct. 18, they will “drop, cover and hold on.” Maryland is one of five states calling for schools, businesses, government agencies and communities to take part. Click here to sign up and pledge your participation.

In the meantime, Patch wants to hear your memories from that unforgettable day last year. So tell us, where were YOU when the East Coast Quake hit? How long until you realized it was no mere train or truck or construction work? Who did you call first? Or did you go straight to Facebook/Twitter?

And be honest: did you, if even for a moment, panic?

Katie Rapp August 23, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I was working on the computer in my home office which is on the first floor of my house. I heard the rumbling and thought it was my kids jumping like crazy on the bed in the room directly above me. They kept doing it! I was mad! I looked up and saw both kids were downstairs, not upstairs jumping on the bed! So then we all ran outside, our first instinct. This all happened very quickly, because we were out on the porch and could still see the pavement moving for a while. I've felt 2 other quakes at this house in Gaithersburg. One back in maybe 2002 when my son was an infant. I had put him down for a nap and thought he had fallen out of his crib. The second was a couple years ago, the one with the Germantown epicenter... that woke me up. But this one last year, was my only "big" one!
Sean R. Sedam August 23, 2012 at 05:18 PM
I was at the State House in Annapolis with my wife. We were on a "stay-cation" and taking in some of the sites and restaurants of a town where I used to work, but that I seldom had time to enjoy. I had little intention of checking in on old sources from my days covering the General Assembly. But at the moment my foot hit the top marble step under the State House dome I heard a load roar. The dome was getting a paint job and there was scaffolding all around its exterior. I thought that maybe the noise was related to the work (though in retrospect, the sound was way too loud to be routine) until I saw nervous-looking staffers streaming from the offices adjacent the building's entrance. From the right came Senate President Mike Miller's staff. From the left came the staff of House Speaker Mike Busch. A minute or so later we were gathered with them—and with President Miller and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown—on Lawyers Mall. My friend who I had just visited in the State House press pit relayed that his news outlet—the Associated Press—was reporting an earthquake.
Arlene K. Polangin August 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Not something I ever want to experience again. Had just finished showering and thought a plane had crashed into the house. Ran to a window to see neighbor outside; quickly ran outside to another neighbor who was on iphone checking that we'd just had a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. My son and daughter-in-law went through the earthquake in March, 2011 in Japan and we were all terrified by that. This was the second one I ever felt; first woke us from sound sleep. I've now had more than my fair share. Thankfully no damage to people or house here or in Japan.
rita krishna August 23, 2012 at 09:03 PM
i was in rockville visiting my old boss in ritchie center when the whole store started to shake, so we all yelled in the store and ran outside into the parking lot. we were confused as to whether to hide under a table, plus we had not been given warning that there was going to be a quake so we were totally taken by shock then when we got into the parking lot we didnt know whether we should stand near a sturdy tree or where to stand nearby a car even? where is it really safe to be during an earthquake? afterwards we kept waiting cause none of us wanted to drive our cars home until we were sure that the quake had ended. plus all our cell phones went out so we couldnt call anyone plus nobody knew if there was going to be an additional quake.
Helen August 24, 2012 at 02:36 AM
My husband and I were on vacation in New Hampshire when the earthquake hit, but the only vibrations we felt were from our cell phones. My husband is in grad school studying geophysics, so all our friends and relatives from the D.C. area were calling to share the news with their favorite Earth scientist! We both grew up in Rockville, but lived near San Francisco at the time. It still amazes me that after living in California for three years, the biggest earthquake I ever felt there was a measly 4.3! ~Helen


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