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Hey West Coast, Don’t Fault Us for Being All Shook up

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2011

By Jill M. Speegle


Traditionally this space in our Friday e-newsletter is reserved for “Off the Wall” stories of the decidedly offbeat variety, but considering Mother Nature’s recent rattling of the East Coast, I felt compelled to make note of it here.

Tuesday’s quake registered a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter Scale and struck approximately 100 miles southwest of Washington D.C. in Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

We felt it in our offices in Pittsburgh.

I was sipping my afternoon coffee when I felt my chair and desk begin to wobble, which was both concerning and confusing.

In my panic, I immediately checked Facebook and discovered a hoard of status updates on my news feed—“Earthquake in D.C.” “I felt that” “I just survived my first quake!” “Holy Crap!! EARTHQUAKE.”
 
Many people in our office scampered around the halls chattering about the tremors.

I’ve never experienced an earthquake before and was not expecting my first experience to be in Pittsburgh.

The quake was a whisper shy of the strongest recorded earthquake in Virginia, a magnitude 5.9, which occurred in May 1897. The strongest recorded earthquake to strike the East Coast was the 1886 Charleston, S.C., earthquake, which was approximately a magnitude 7.3.

Shaking was felt from Georgia to Canada. The USGS says the effects of earthquakes in the East propagate and spread much more “efficiently” than in the western U.S., due to geologic conditions. 

The Survey also indicated the age of the rock makes a difference.

“Western rock is relatively young, which means it absorbs a lot of the shaking caused by earthquakes. Thus, western earthquakes result in intense shaking close to the epicenter, but fade more quickly the farther the earthquakes travel.”

In the East, on the other hand, the rock is much older, so “earthquakes can have a much larger and more widespread impact.”

A few structures in the D.C. area suffered damage from Tuesday’s shakedown; among them was the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, which the National Park Service said had cracks at the top. 

Washington earthquake 

Perhaps even more devastating and costly was the damage done to the Washington National Cathedral’s elaborate limestone exterior, which included fallen spires. See photos here.

Though a 5.8 rumble is mild by West Coast standards and many of my friends in California felt inclined to poke fun at our reactions to the quake on Facebook, I think we had a right to be concerned.

After all, with more than 100 years passed since the last time this part of the country was rattled to this extent, we’re not much experienced with earth tremors here in the “Quaker State.”

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Jill M. Speegle

Jill Speegle is the Editor of Durability + Design News. She earned her B.A. in journalism and English as well as her J.D. from the University of Arkansas. In Sketches, Jill shares her thoughts on a number of topics that may be of interest to the D+D community, including architecture, interior design, green building, historic restoration, and whatever else catches her radar.

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