An earthquake at 1:53 p.m. Tuesday, centered in Mineral, Va. (between Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, Va.) shook the East Coast, and tremors were felt in Wilkes County.
The earthquake, which measured 5.8 on the Richter scale, was the most severe quake recorded on the East Coast in 67 years. According to the scale, quakes of magnitude 5.0-5.9 are considered “moderate,” while 6-6.9 are ranked as “strong.”
No damage in Wilkes
There were no injuries or deaths attributed to the earthquake. In Wilkes, no damage was reported other than broken plates which fell from tables and broken glass in frames which fell from walls.
Ricky Minton, the director of the Wilkes County Communications Center, said 67 calls came into dispatchers in the 20 minutes after the earthquake.
“It was busy there for a while,” he said. “I didn’t hear of any real damage anywhere, though. The calls were from people who were concerned because their houses were shaking.”
Suzanne Hamby, the director of Wilkes County Emergency Management, added, “Communications centers all over the state were inundated with calls according to the email I received from the state emergency management office. Most of those calls were from people who were asking what was happening.
“I didn’t hear of any real problems in Wilkes, except for picture frames falling off the walls, and items falling from shelves. It seems like it was felt all over the county. We’re located on the fault line here in the county, so we’re going to feel it.”
Retired Wilkesboro Police Chief Delbert Wilson, who lives on Valley View Avenue (near the Tyson Foods processing plant) in Wilkesboro, said, “I was sitting in the front room, and it shook my chair. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first.”
Willye Dancy, a resident of Traphill Road, Hays, said, “I didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought someone was trying to break in my house.”
Bill Frawley of Moravian Falls, a longtime resident of California who has lived in Wilkes for 25 years, said, “I’ve felt several earthquakes, but I’ve only felt one worse than this.”
Damage near epicenter
In Washington, D.C., the White House, Pentagon and other government buildings were temporarily evacuated. Several cracks were found near the top of the 555-foot Washington Monument, which has been closed indefinitely while engineers decide how best to make repairs. There were also cracks reported near the top of Washington National Cathedral, and capstones fell from three of the spires.
In New York, courthouses and city hall were evacuated, and construction at the World Trade Center construction site was halted. There was no interruption in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
There was also no damage at the North Anna nuclear plant, located seven miles northeast of Mineral and operated by Dominion Virginia Power. Electrical service to the plant was knocked out, but plant workers were able to manually shut down both nuclear units without incident.
Officials of CSX Transportation said that freight trains operating in the area were operating at reduced speeds of 10-15 miles per hour in the area near the epicenter.
Dr. Alton Dooley of the Virginia Museum of Natural History said Tuesday, “The Central Virginia Seismic Zone is located throughout Virginia’s Piedmont region. Most of the faults were originally formed either during continental collisions that formed the Appalachian Mountains around 300 million years ago, or during the rifting that formed the Atlantic Ocean starting around 220 million years ago. While those events are in the distant past, the faults formed during those events are still present and rocks still occasionally move along those faults, causing earthquakes.”
The relatively shallow depth of the epicenter—3.7 miles below the surface—and the fact that the crust of the earth along the East Coast is hard and cold when compared to the West Coast, allowed the shocks associated with the earthquake to be transmitted more efficiently. Residents of 26 states felt the tremors.
Minor damage near epicenter
Lynn Williams Gambell, a native of Wilkes who lives in Fredericksburg (30 miles northeast of Mineral), reported that the earthquake shook dishes off shelves in her home.
“I first thought it was a sonic boom, and I kept waiting to hear the plane,” she said. “When we realized it was an earthquake, we got everyone out of the house. We could hear sirens all around after the quake.”
The quake was strong enough to topple a grandfather clock at her daughter’s home nearby.
Several minor aftershocks were felt in the area around Mineral Tuesday night.