Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

We're living on an unstable planet.

I had that thought last night and it was confirmed first thing this morning. Then it was really confirmed about an hour ago.

In the last 24 hours, there have been several earthquakes in the same small area near the border of Colorado and New Mexico. The largest was about 5:00 this morning (Mountain Daylight Time) , a 5.3 magnitude. We didn't feel it, but our friends in Raton, NM felt the one yesterday evening, which was only 3.5. I'm sure they felt the one this morning.

Click here for a very cool map of the US, showing recent earthquakes.

Then this afternoon about 2:00 (Eastern Daylight Time), there was a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia, near Richmond. Of course it was felt in Washington, DC and New York City. The people in DC, especially in the Capitol, had an initial reaction that it was a bombing or some kind of terrorist attack when the building began shaking. They were relieved to find out it was an earthquake. But a 5.9 is huge for an earthquake, especially in a region not used to earthquakes.

The quake was felt all along the east, and according to some reports, as far away and as far west as Detroit!

To make things more interesting, while CNN is doing their usual non-stop coverage of the quake (stopping only for commercials, of course), their news crawl along the bottom of the screen included this: "Entire east coast should prepare for Hurricane Irene."

See what I mean about an unstable planet?

I'll post updates to both quake regions as I hear them.

In the meantime, did any of you feel the quake? Share your story.


Barbara said...

It was the first time I'd experienced a quake even close to that strong, so I spent most of it trying to figure out what was going on.

When the shaking and rumbling began, I thought it must be from construction equipment down the street, though it seemed unusually strong. Then it went on too long. It couldn't be from Aberdeen Proving Ground; they don't test there anymore, and they were never so strong or lasted so long. Then I thought I saw the ground rolling, as I've heard it does in an earthquake, so I starting thinking, "Wow, this must be an earthquake." That was interesting, because we've never had a "real" one. While I was marveling at this, the house began to shake--and I mean *really* shake. The tests at Aberdeen used to make the house shiver, but this was nothing like that. It seemed to be shaking in three dimensions. I figured I'd better get outside in case the ceiling or anything else came down, so I hustled out the front door. (The ceiling in my office is already damaged from a leaky roof--the roof has been fixed, but the ceiling hasn't.)

Outside, I wondered if it was safe to be under trees, but decided that it was probably safer outside than inside. The electric and phone cables were swinging around, and somehow this reassured me that it was indeed a hurricane. I don't know why I needed to be reassured--I guess because I'd never been in an earthquake and was still trying to make sense of it all.

After it stopped, I went inside to get my phone and call someone. It was one of those big experiences that required some kind of sharing. Weirdly, though the earthquake seemed to have ended, my aluminum storm door kept vibrating noisily, after I'd come in and closed it, for 15-30 seconds.

I thought of calling my friend Pam in D.C. to find out if they had it there, but I wasn't sure what to say, and if they hadn't had it, I might sound completely crazy. (As it happened, I wouldn't have been able to get through to her--cell phone service was overwhelmed.) So I called Kate, who also might or might not have experienced it but who I felt more comfortable sounding crazy with.

I started by blurting out, "I think I just had an earthquake!" She said, "So that *is* what that was." She hadn't been sure either, but thought it must have been an earthquake, and she described her own experience of trying to figure out explanations for odd events. In her situation, some boxes stacked up on the sunporch had started rustling early on, and she though an animal must have got into them.

After we talked a while and I felt calmer, I went online (of course) and started reading reports from D.C. and elsewhere and found where the epicenter was. I e-mailed Pam, who at the same time was e-mailing me--from the street in front of her office building, using her iPhone. She and her husband, who was three or four miles away, couldn't reach each other by cell phone, but she had Internet access and had already been seeing comments from Facebook friends. A hundred years ago, telegraph was the fastest medium, and you'd hear about things like this hours or days later, depending on how far you were from it and how you got your news. People overseas might not hear about it for even longer. Now Facebook friends and people on e-mail lists, Web forums, and newsgroups from all over the world post "Are you OK?" messages moments after the event.

Then I remembered to check the house for any damage. A few small objects had fallen from shelves, a pile of books had fallen off a table, my bedside table had shifted a foot away from the wall, and there was a large wet spot on a floor mat by the kitchen sink, and I found later the floor under it was soaked. I'm still puzzled about that one. I have a couple of theories, but neither satisfies me. No pipes broken. Nothing broken in fact. It was a freaky experience, but no harm done. If we get another one, I'll at least know what it is, and I'll probably get under my desk.

Beth said...

Wow, what a fantastic write-up! It sounds scary.

Thanks for sharing the experience.

Barbara said...

It was scary mostly after the fact. It lasted about 45 seconds, which is longer than it might seem unless you count the seconds out one by one. But for most of that time, I was curious, trying to figure out what was going on rather than feeling scared. It was more disorienting than scary. Because we'd never had one like that before, it was sort of unreal. Could this be an earthquake? I think it's really an earthquake. ... Wow, that must have been an earthquake. Holy #$%#, that *was* an earthquake! Then I started to think about how bad it could have been. At the time it was more like, "Hey, this seems to be an earthquake, it's pretty stupid to sit here trying to write an e-mail to Pam and her husband about some news about my neighbor, I should get out of a house that's shaking in three dimensions." Afterward, with the adrenaline I hadn't known I was getting at the time, I was all jazzed up. It was hard to work the rest of the day. By the next day, it was hard to remember what it had been like.

What really is scary is that Hurricane Irene is coming, and it's tracking farther westward than it was last night. Looks like it's going to wallop the Carolina coast and we'll be in the cone. Wish us luck!

Barbara said...

Bah, in my first comment, I meant that the swinging utility cables reassured me that it was an earthquake, not a hurricane. I've got hurricanes on the brain, obviously!