Earthquake's effects were felt throughout the region

By Tony E. Windsor

On Tuesday afternoon in what could easily be considered "unusual" for the area, people all around western Sussex County and the whole of Delaware felt the earth move under their feet. An earthquake in central Virginia, measuring a significant 5.9 on the Richter scale, sent tremors as far north as Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

In Seaford, residents on Pine Street rushed from their homes in an effort to find out what had happened. Antiche Richards, 19, knew the rumbling and shaking house was nothing she had ever felt before. "We were not sure what was going on," she said. The house started shaking and she went outside thinking maybe something had exploded nearby.

Social networks lit up and Facebook comments reflected immediate humor and some sense of concern. Seaford High School senior, Jamie Lancaster wrote, "Last first day of high school and there was an earthquake. Finally something exciting happens at Seaford." Several posts cautioned the "end of the world and coming of Christ," and Dominic Calio, who lives near Virginia Beach, Va., used Facebook to let his family back in Laurel know he was ok, telling father Frank Calio, "Dad let everyone know we are ok down here. Our phones are just crazy and you can't call out or text."

Bryant Richardson, owner and publisher of Morning Star Publications, said he was on the phone talking with his son, Daniel, who lives in Laurel, Md., when the tremors began. "He (Daniel) felt it first. He told me that his whole house was shaking. Then seconds later, I felt the Morning Star building shaking as well. It was a strange feeling," Richardson said.

A spokesman from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), said while an earthquake of the magnitude of 5.9 is not a standard occurrence on the eastern side of the country, it is far from unheard of and not necessarily a sign of a trend. "In 1897 there was an earthquake in this same general area of Virginia that registered almost exactly the same at 5.9," he said. "I suppose if you consider an earthquake of this size to have happened twice in 110 years that is not too much to be alarmed about."

The spokesman said because the USGS phones were overwhelmed with calls following the earthquake he was taking the call from his office in Anchorage, Alaska. He said outside of the size and location of the earthquake, he was not privy to any local information regarding property damage or human casualties.

"I have not heard anything about serious problems with property or infrastructure, but given the close proximity to heavily populated areas like Richmond, Va., there is reason to believe a quake of this magnitude could possibly cause some structural damage." The phone call with the USGS was abruptly cut off, presumably due to the heavy call volumes.

As phone services became of vital importance, lines jammed as friends and loved ones of those living in the Virginia area attempted to get confirmation all was well. Family of Arlington School District IT coordinator, Tom Windsor, who live in Seaford, were unsuccessful in reaching him in the minutes following the report of the earthquake. Windsor resides in Falls Church, Va., and works out of Wakefield High School in Arlington. Phone lines were overwhelmed in the area and calls and text messaging were not getting through.

After sending an e-mail, Windsor responded that he was ok. Once phone service became available he told his family that his experience with the strong turbulence that followed the earthquake was "unique and extremely intimidating." He said he had been attending a workshop on the second floor of the high school. As he made his way out into the hallway following the meeting, he felt what seemed to be a vibration and shortly thereafter a low rumbling. "There is new school construction occurring near our location, so at first I thought it was some of the heavy equipment that has been a familiar sound recently," he said. "Then the rumbling became much louder and the building started wavering back and forth. It became extremely loud and intense and the wavering became so violent that I moved under a doorway fearing the ceiling may collapse." Windsor said the tiles in the ceiling began to fall around him and he was not sure where he should go, or what he should do. "Strange enough, an earthquake was not my first thought," he said. "I immediately thought we may be under terrorist attack. I was not sure if I should stay where I was or move down the stairs to a lower level. Then as quickly as it started, it was over.

I think then it sunk in that we had just experienced an earthquake."

Though he said it seemed like "a half an hour," the tremors actually may have only lasted less than 30 seconds. "Looking down the hallway it looked as though a bomb had gone off and tiles were everywhere," he said. "I have to admit that during this episode my heart was pounding and my knees went weak. It was quite an experience."

According to the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory, there have been four measurable earthquakes documented in Virginia since April 2010. These earthquakes include one in Montpelier, Va. on April 29, 2010, that registered 2.3; one on Feb. 20, 2011 located northwest of Potts Creek, Va., registered at 2.8 and one on Oct. 2, 2010, that registered at 3.2. The USGS also reported that an earthquake registered at magnitude 5.3, occurred in Colorado late Monday night, less than a day before the Virginia quake.

The USGS reports that the only earthquake to center in Delaware and cause severe property damage occurred on Oct. 9, 1871, in Wilmington. The report states, "Chimneys toppled, windows broke, and residents were quite bewildered by the unusual event. Lighter damage was sustained in northern Delaware at Newport, New Castle, and Oxford. Earth noises, variously described as 'rumbling' and 'explosive,' accompanied the shock in several areas.".

The last shock to center in Delaware and cause minor effects occurred on May 8, 1906, just three weeks after the noted San Francisco earthquake in California. Records state this shock was strong at Seaford, but lists no details concerning the event. The following reports were posted Tuesday on the Seaford and Laurel Star websites:

DELDOT Initial reports in from the four districts serving the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) following today's earthquake are that no damage was suffered among the department's various infrastructure of roadways and bridges, reports Gary Lang, DelDOT community relations officer. DelDOT has a list for bridge inspections, and visual inspections are underway.The Indian River Inlet Bridge under construction was inspected and no damage was found. The adjacent existing span over the Indian River Inlet is being surveyed, but there is no apparent damage reported at this time. There are no reports of damage to roadways and no closures caused by the earthquake that was felt along major portions of the east coast.

DEMA Rosanne Pack, Public Information Officer with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, reports the following: The earthquake that affected Delaware at 1:51 p.m. this afternoon was centered in Virginia and is estimated at a magnitude of 5.9 on the Richter scale. The Delaware Geological Survey has said that what Delawareans felt was the equivalent of between 1 and 2 and would not be expected to cause structural damage. State government remained open Tuesday afternoon, though there were evacuations of some state buildings. There have been no confirmations of serious damage or injury in the state. According to the Geological Survey, there is the possibility of aftershocks, but they would likely be of significantly less intensity than the 1:51 p.m. event. DEMA and relevant state officials continue to monitor the event.

WHITEHOUSE From Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest: At 2:50 p.m., the President led a conference call with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards with the Department of Interior Dr. David Applegate, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Heidi Avery, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough to discuss the earthquake and status of critical infrastructure. The President was told that there are no initial reports of major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities.

Walk hopes to raise $70k The Sussex County Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk and run will be Sunday, Oct. 2, at Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown. Organizer Mary Catherine Hopkins, Bethel, hopes to raise $70,000. For details, call Hopkins at 875-7308. Information about the run is also available on the website www.stridessussex.org.

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