Rare earthquake rattles, puzzles East Coasters
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011 2:18PM EDT
It only took a few minutes on Tuesday afternoon for a 5.8-magnitude earthquake to send a jolt along North America's East Coast, rattling both buildings and nerves.
Though the quake was based in Virginia, Canadians from London, Ont. to as far east as New Brunswick reported that they felt the tremor. There were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries as a result of the rumbling.
By West Coast standards, Tuesday's 5.8-magnitude jolt is considered mild. The extent of its power in eastern Canada seemed to range between shaking chandeliers and tossing objects off shallow shelves.
But the earthquake was, according to The Associated Press, the strongest to hit the eastern United States since the Second World War.
The quake is unusual but not unprecedented for the region, said University of Calgary geophysics professor David Eaton.
"It falls within an area called the central Virginia seismic zone which is a region that experiences moderate earthquakes," Eaton told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday morning.
Eaton said that Virginia's seismic zone has experienced earthquakes as long ago as the 19th Century and as recently as 2003.
"One thing that's interesting is the seismic zone where this earthquake took place is not unlike the ones we see in Canada," he said.
Parts of Western Quebec have the potential to experience earthquakes similar to the one that shook buildings and flustered many on Tuesday afternoon, Eaton said. He pointed to an earthquake that shook up Ottawa last June, during the lead-up to the G20 summit in Toronto.
While the reported damage after Tuesday's quake was mild -- many people tweeted photos of toppled lawn chairs or picture frames askew -- Eaton said that earthquakes occurring in eastern North America have the potential to affect many people.
The area that earthquakes are felt in eastern North America is estimated to be about 10 times larger than the tremor-experienced state of California, he said.
"When we get an earthquake of about 5.8 or 5.9 in Eastern North America the felt area is really, truly a huge area and it affects a lot of people," Eaton added.
Eaton also told CTV's Canada AM that he anticipates Tuesday's earthquake will cause mild aftershocks in its epicentre.
"The aftershocks will likely continue for a few days and be much smaller," he said.
When the quake struck Tuesday, CTV's Washington Bureau Chief Paul Workman was reporting on the streets of the U.S. capital.
He said the rumbling in Washington lasted for about 35 to 40 seconds.
"The shaking felt substantial to most people, and they got on to the street as fast as they could," Workman reported on Tuesday.
Though the tremor was brief, for some it was enough to scrape up fresh anxieties about terrorism and domestic security.
With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks just weeks away, people were evacuated some several U.S. high-rises including the Empire State Building in New York.
"I ran down all 60 flights," accounting office worker Caitlin Trupiano told The Associated Press. "I wasn't waiting for the elevator."
Several U.S. buildings were cleared of people during the brief quake including the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol building and various museums along the National Mall.
Hours after the quake struck, city streets were flooded with office workers who were evacuated from their buildings.
Cellphone service in the area was disrupted as hundreds of people jammed networks, trying to call home or check the Web for updates.
The Washington Monument remained indefinitely closed on Wednesday after engineers found a crack near the top, presumably caused by tremors the day before.
The quake is also said to have shook the National Cathedral in Washington so severely that three pinnacles on the building's central tower snapped off.
Further north, however, the earthquake seemed to cause more fervor on the Internet than on the ground.
The term "earthquake" quickly became the top trending topic on Twitter in Canada Tuesday afternoon.
With files from The Associated Press