Va. earthquake rattles Maryland and beyond

`Weak to light' shaking causes no injuries, little harm to buildings

December 10, 2003|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An earthquake in Virginia shook buildings from Georgia to New York yesterday afternoon, causing no serious damage but creating tremors felt in neighborhoods around the Baltimore region.

The quake, measuring magnitude 4.5, occurred just before 4 p.m. and was centered about 30 miles west of Richmond. It lasted about 90 seconds and prompted 7,600 calls to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most of the callers experienced "weak to light" shaking of homes and other structures, according to agency officials.

A reading of magnitude 4.5 is moderate, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By contrast, the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 that killed 61 people and injured 3,000 measured 6.9.

Baltimore homes shook

In Maryland, there were no reports of serious damage, but the quake shook houses in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County.

"At first I thought it was a big sheet of snow finally coming off the roof of the house, but then I thought, `Why would the house vibrate?'" said Rex Gordon, 52, a lawyer who felt the tremor for about 10 seconds in his brick Colonial near Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda.

Gordon said the vibrations caused no damage, but were similar to those he felt during two minor quakes in California. "It was the kind of shaking you could feel if you just put your hand on a piece of furniture," he said.

Scared cat

Liz Scherer, a free-lance medical writer, was working on the second floor of her house in downtown Annapolis when she felt a rumble. Scherer noticed her 13-year-old black cat, Coltrane, digging his claws into the carpet.

"He looked scared," she said

Scherer initially thought it was an earthquake but dismissed the idea and, like Gordon, decided it was snow falling off her roof. "All the earthquakes you read about happen out West," she said.

Even near the center of the quake, many people felt nothing.

"I didn't notice it here at all," said F.W. Taylor, vice president for finance and administration at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, based in Richmond.

The quake did shake buildings at the school's campus in Goochland, about 30 miles to the west. But even there, he said, initial surveys have turned up no structural damage.

Because East Coast geology is not broken up into fault lines, as is California's, earthquakes are more likely to be felt over long distances, particularly if a structure rests on hard rock, said Jerry Baum, chief of environmental geology for the Maryland Geological Survey.

"You're more apt to feel it if you're on bedrock than if you're in a building on sediments," Baum said.

The quake struck in the central Virginia seismic zone, an area that has experienced minor earthquakes before. There have been about 10 earthquakes in Virginia since 1990 and two quakes in Maryland since 2001, including one in Columbia that registered magnitude 2.0 and alarmed about a dozen residents in Owen Brown Village.

Staff writer Jason Song contributed to this article.

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