It only took seven minutes and a distance of 200 miles for the seismic shock wave of a record earthquake in Virginia to reach all parts of our area Tuesday afternoon.
At 1:51 p.m., the epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck 3.7 miles below the small town of Mineral, Va., located about 40 miles northwest of Richmond. Towns and communities up and down the East Coast, stretching from Georgia to Ohio and as far north as Toronto, Canada, were caught off guard as they felt the unsettling effect of the quake.
The shock wave reached northeastern Pennsylvania at 1:58 p.m. and lasted up to 20 seconds in some areas.
Despite suffering extensive damage to her home and having no power, Helen (Smith) Horton, a Tamaqua native who lives in Mineral, said she is doing fine as she communicated with family member Theresa Gallahar of Tamaqua.
Immediately after the earthquake, Horton went door to door checking on nearby elderly residents, Gallahar said.
"Right now, they are just trying to clean up the mess," said Gallahar.
Eleanor Moneta, who also felt the earthquake and saw her lamp moving from her fifth floor apartment of the Majestic House in Tamaqua, played back a message left on her answering machine from her sister Annette Shamus, a Tamaqua native who lives in Gainesville, 70 miles north of the epicenter.
Shamus's message stated, "I heard a roar and then our whole house started to shake. It was quite an experience. Cell phones and power were out and traffic is a mess. I never want to go through this again."
Two smaller aftershocks were also felt in and around Mineral a few hours after the initial quake, and are expected to continue for about a month.
Dennis McCarroll, who lives on the 16th floor, the highest floor of the ABC High Rise Apartment Building in Tamaqua, said he was watching TV when the wheelchair he was sitting in started to shake a little. McCarroll jokingly pointed out that he lived in California for four years while in the Navy many years ago and never felt an earthquake, saying that he had to come to Pennsylvania to feel one.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, (USGS) East Coast earthquakes, far less common than in the more active West Coast, tend to be felt over a broader area. Seismic waves on the East Coast travel farther with less interruption due to a mostly solid crust. The USGS website shows the estimated shock wave extending as far west as Kansas. The USGS website, www.USGS.gov, shows over 700 smaller earthquakes that have occurred in the past seven days, most being on the West Coast.
Tom Slane, who works at the Silberline Manufacturing plant, Hometown, said the whole building shook slightly.
Despite temporary evacuations of government buildings, monuments and short-term closures of airports and bridges, no major damages were reported in the tri-state area. Most closures and evacuations, some partial, were only done as precautionary measures. The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all affected National Mall monuments and memorials. Some bridges were closed for precautionary inspections following the quake. The Washington Monument is still closed due to structural problems from the quake.
Tamaqua Police Officer Karl Harig said the earthquake woke his wife, Stacy, who lives in Pottsville.
After a few seconds of shaking, ceiling tiles fell at the Reagan National Airport, located outside Washington. A District of Columbia fire department representative said there were numerous injuries, but no reports of serious injuries or deaths. A 26-story federal courthouse building in lower Manhattan, N.Y., started to rock, resulting in hundreds of people evacuating the building. Court officials decided not to let people back in.
"I definitely felt it," said Kevin Steigerwalt, Tamaqua borough manager. "The entire borough building shook slightly for about 20 seconds."
Steigerwalt sent Ray Woodring, work leader for Tamaqua's water distribution department, to inspect areas as precautionary measures. No problems were found. Steigerwalt mentioned that the vibration reminded him of the blasting at the old Atlas Powder Company.
"I grew up near the Atlas Powder Company and was used to feeling and hearing blasts and vibrations," Steigerwalt said.
Edith Moyer, secretary, Tamaqua police, felt her chair vibrating, while Officer Henry Woods felt small vibrations while in a patrol car.
While waiting at a stop light at the Five Points intersection in Tamaqua, Linda Yulanavage, executive director of the Tamaqua Chamber of Commerce, thought someone was pushing up and down on the back of her car.
Shaking was also felt at the White House and even Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where President Barack Obama is vacationing.
According to Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, the same county as the epicenter, were taken offline by safety systems around the time of the earthquake. Hannah said the agency was not immediately aware of any damage at any southeastern nuclear power plants.
Laurie Heller, Lake Hauto, said she thought her deck was going to collapse as the shaking lasted over 15 seconds and also shook her house.
Although less common than in the Western U.S., earthquakes in the eastern and central U.S. are normally felt over a much broader distance. Compared to earthquakes on the West Coast, earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains can sometimes be felt over an area 10 times wider than a like magnitude earthquake. According to the USGS website, typically, a magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake can be felt at many places as far as 60 miles from where it occurred, infrequently causing damage near its source. It also states that a magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake can usually be felt as far as 300 miles from where it occurred, and sometimes causes damage as far away as 25 miles.
The Virginia earthquake resulted from a reverse faulting on a north or northeast-striking plane within a recognized seismic zone, the Central Virginia Seismic Zone, CVSZ. The Central Virginia Seismic Zone has produced small to moderate earthquakes since the 18th century. The preceding largest historical shock from the CVSZ occurred in 1875, before the invention of effective seismographs, and had a magnitude of about 4.8. The 1875 earthquake also jolted bricks from chimneys, cracked plaster and windows, and flipped furniture at several locations. On Dec. 9, 2003, a magnitude 4.5 earthquake also produced minor damage.
On Monday, an earthquake in Colorado knocked groceries off shelves and caused minimal damage to properties.
Social sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with chatter immediately following the quake.
Deb Hosler, Tamaqua, said, "Our (German) Shepherd was growling, barking and carrying on."
Bonnie Shigo, McAdoo, said, "There wasn't anything in McAdoo. Nothing moved."
"My Jack Russell (terrier) barked right through it," said Stacey Betz, New Ringgold.
Melanie Spak said her husband called her from Harrisburg immediately after feeling the quake stating people were evacuating an adjacent building next to his.
A lot of comments on Facebook also revolved around people thinking it was terrorism.
A majority of the people that felt or witnessed seismic waves were either sitting down or in a quiet environment.
More information about yesterday's Tuesday's earthquake and the dimensions of the individual fault that produced it will not be known until longer-term studies are done, but other earthquakes of similar magnitude typically involve slippage along fault segments that are usually 3 to 9 miles long.