An hour ago, a significant earthquake struck near one of the United States’ most populated areas, causing minor damage, disrupting travel, and prompting evacuations of buildings. But unusually, the populated area that this quake affected was not in California, or on the Left Coast, or even west of the Rocky Mountains, where earthquakes are an unwelcome part of life.
The tremor, centered under Mineral, Virginia, instead shook the District of Columbia, the Atlantic seaboard, and parts of New England.
Naturally, cable TV news (which is largely based in D.C. and New York) is having a field day with this. So are the East Coast’s major newspapers. The Washington Post’s website carried a headline which read: “BREAKING NEWS: 5.8 magnitude earthquake shakes Washington.”
The short story linked from this headline shows a picture of people (some presumably Post employees) milling around outside of its offices.
The photograph itself is evidence that people on the East Coast are unused to earthquakes and lack the knowledge of how to stay safe in the aftermath of one.
The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.
The above excerpt is from FEMA’s earthquake page, which advises Americans against loitering outside of buildings following an earthquake.
Given that the real Washington — Washington State — is earthquake country, the Post could have been more precise in announcing the news by reporting that an earthquake had struck D.C. (the District of Columbia).
We here in the great Evergreen State did not feel the quake, though we can sympathize with those who were scared or caught off-guard, since tremors are a hazard that we simply have to deal with as Washingtonians.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is reporting that the quake was actually a magnitude 5.9 tremor (it was apparently upgraded from 5.8). The quake struck at 1:51 PM local time — 10:51 AM Pacific Time. The actual location was listed as 37.975°N, 77.969°W. The location uncertainty was listed as horizontal +/- 10.9 km (6.8 miles); depth +/- 7.4 km (4.6 miles).
Buildings across the nation’s capital were evacuated in response to the earthquake, including the White House and the Pentagon.
Alarms reportedly went off at the headquarters of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Area airports, including Joint Base Andrews, also evacuated their control towers and halted flight operations.
A nuclear power plant located near the epicenter was also automatically brought offline as a precaution.
The plant is safely running on backup power for the time being.
It has been a long time since the East Coast was shaken by an earthquake this significant. Perhaps the millions of people who live there can now better appreciate the threat of seismic destruction that we on the Left Coast live with constantly. When earthquakes strike here, they can easily cause major damage and claim lives.
Geologists tell us that we are overdue for a major earthquake here in the Evergreen State. It could strike at any time and we would have no warning.
We therefore have a great appreciation for federal agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NOAA’s National Weather Service. Just this spring, House Republicans proposed devastating cuts to these agencies.
We at NPI hope today’s quake leads to greater pressure on the Republicans to drop their horribly shortsighted, extremely counterproductive schemes to weaken the vital public services that I just mentioned.
POSTSCRIPT: Marcy Wheeler has more on this (CantorQuake: Trembling at the Heart of GOP Claims We Don’t Need Government).