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Washington assesses damage from rare east coast quake
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 24, 2011

Virginia quake on 'typical' seismic day
Washington (UPI) Aug 24, 2011 - Although the 5.8 earthquake Tuesday on the U.S. East Coast got all the attention, it wasn't the only quake in the country that day, seismologists said.

In fact, there were about 90 earthquakes, including a 5.3 temblor in Colorado, on what scientists said was a more or less typical seismological day.

What was slightly out of the ordinary was the magnitude and location of the earthquakes, Rafael Abreu, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist, told the Los Angeles Times.

Virginia's earthquake was of unusual strength for the region, he said, whereas Colorado's 5.3 shaker, while significant, was just one of nine temblors to hit the state Wednesday.

The Western state has been having a rash of quakes over the past few days including a 4.6-magnitude one on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

What made the Virginia quake unusual is that most quakes strike along or near tectonic plate boundaries, such as on the U.S. West Coast, while there is no such boundary in Virginia or on the U.S East Coast as a whole.

Still, Virginia does sometimes feel minor and even moderate earthquakes since it does possess two recognized "seismic zones," AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Jim Andrews said.

Tuesday's quake was the second strongest ever recorded in the state since a 5.9 temblor near Pearisburg in 1897, the USGS said.

Washington's iconic monuments were off-limits to disappointed tourists and schools around the region were also shuttered Wednesday, as authorities assessed the damage from a rare US east coast earthquake the previous day.

Officials announced that the Washington Monument, one of the most recognizable symbols of the US capital city, would be closed to visitors indefinitely after cracks were found near the summit of the soaring obelisk.

"The Washington Monument, because of its structural complexities, will remain closed until further notice," read a statement issued by The National Park Service the federal agency that administers many of the popular sights and attractions around Washington's National Mall area.

"The NPS will continue to inspect the interior of the Monument before any decisions are made about reopening it to the public."

Other popular monuments also were closed "as a precaution" pending a thorough inspection to determine whether repairs were needed following the 5.8 magnitude temblor, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Old Post Office Tower.

"The NPS is evaluating the structures to ensure that they are structurally sound and safe for all visitors," the NPS said in its statement, adding that some of the sites could be reopened once thorough inspections have been completed.

The temblor struck at 1:51 pm (1751 GMT) Tuesday, with an epicenter 3.7 miles (six kilometers) under the central Virginia town of Mineral, 134 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of the US capital, the National Earthquake Information Center reported.

It was the most powerful quake to hit Virginia since May 1897 and was felt as far north as Boston and parts of eastern Canada, as far south as Alabama, and as far west as Indiana and Michigan.

Earthquakes are the rarest of phenomena along the US east coast, and many of the millions caught completely offguard by the temblor said it was the first time they had ever experienced one.

The quake lasted less than half a minute, setting buildings swaying and sending tens of thousands of people scurrying into the streets, but causing no reported deaths or serious injuries.

Many workers were bewildered -- and feared the worst -- as their desks swayed violently and the ceilings and walls pitched and shook with fearsome force.

And in a region about to relive the trauma of September 11, 2001 as the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks nears, many suspected terrorism as they raced down stairways to parks and street corners after the temblor struck.

Local officials said schools in the US capital city, which just opened this week after a two-month-long summer break, would also be closed as they determined whether building are safe enough to allow students to return.

Most buildings in the region are not constructed to withstand an earthquake, and several structures, especially older buildings, suffered damage.

Bricks fell from the roof of the embassy of Ecuador in Washington, smashing the window of a parked car. Brick walls and chimneys also toppled in places like Baltimore and northern Virginia, damaging parked cars in some places.

In Washington, the National Cathedral lost part of its towering neo-Gothic spires and suffered cracks in its flying buttresses.

The Pentagon, the world's biggest office building located across the River Potomac from the capital, ordered a brief evacuation, which was carried out calmly. Several hundred people streamed out of the building and officials said there was no damage other than a ruptured water line.

Chucks of masonry and tile also fell from the domed roof of the US Capitol Building where Congress convenes, officials said.

In New York, workers fled office buildings and poured into the streets, many trying in vain to use overloaded cell phone services to contact loved ones.

"I was in the street when the ground shook and I looked up to see the building shaking like a tuning fork," a stunned Mary Daley told AFP in New York City.

The quake even prompted the early closing of courthouse offices -- meaning that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had to wait until Wednesday to collect his passport and leave the country after sexual assault charges against him were dropped.

Fatima Richardson, 28, who was sitting on the steps of New York's state courthouse on her lunch break, told AFP: "You could see the building moving. I was just freaking out."

There was little damage in the town of Mineral, where many windows were broken and some chimneys cracked but church bell towers were still in place.

Power was out, however, in the tiny town where many locals work at a nearby nuclear plant.

David McIntyre, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, said the agency was closely monitoring the situation at the North Anna 1 and 2 plants in Louisa County not far from Mineral, which reported an "alert" after the quake struck.

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Residents shocked at epicenter of rare US quake
Mineral, Virginia (AFP) Aug 24, 2011 - Residents of this small Virginia town were recovering Wednesday from the shock of being at the epicenter of the rare earthquake that shook much of the eastern United States.

The 5.8-magnitude quake, which struck at 1:51 pm (1751 GMT) Tuesday, had an epicenter 3.7 miles (six kilometers) under the town of Mineral, the National Earthquake Information Center reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Mineral, located 134 kilometers (84 miles) south-west of the US capital -- and while some windows were shattered and a few brick chimneys and walls collapsed, the church bell towers stood and most homes suffered only minor damage.

Residents however were shocked by the strength of the quake, the most powerful earthquake in Virginia since May 1897, when a 5.9 quake struck near the state's western edge.

"I thought the end of the world was coming," Mineral resident Richard Robinson told AFP, who like most residents ran into the street for safety.

Robinson, a security guard, pointed at a shattered business window.

"It happened so fast, so brutal," he said. "I thought of a terrorist attack or an airplane crash."

Firefighters closed down a town gas station because of quake damage, fearing it posed a fire hazard.

"All of a sudden everything started shaking, everyone started running," said Dawn Michisk, who was working the station sales counter when the quake struck.

Ceiling tiles fell to the ground, and a female customer panicked, threw a popsicle she had just bought into the air and ran out the door. "I got hit by the Marlboro sign," she told AFP.

Yellow emergency tape with the words "Do Not Cross" was placed around the city post office. A US postal inspector, Michael Romano, had arrived to "secure the infrastructure and protect the mail" in case of collapse, he said.

"It's like in the movies -- it lasts a minute but it's pretty intense, everything starts shaking and you hope for the best," said plumber Stuart Dewey. The front of his store was cracked, and chunks of plaster and brick littered the ground.

An elementary school roof collapsed, but the children and adults inside were able to leave safely. "The roof was shaking we had to get under our desk -- papers were flying all over," a student named Kianna told AFP.

Near Mineral, the 1,800-megawatt North Anna nuclear power station -- where many of the town's 8,000 residents live -- declared an alert and was temporarily taken off the grid. Officials said that the plant safety systems kicked in and it was soon operating normally.

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Quake sends US East Coast scrambling like 9/11
Washington (AFP) Aug 23, 2011
Thousands of people across the US East Coast raced frantically into the streets Tuesday as an earthquake sent shock waves of the kind last seen almost exactly a decade ago on September 11. The US eastern seaboard has few larger earthquakes. Many workers were bewildered - and feared the worst - as their desks swayed violently and their ceilings and walls shook. In a region days away fro ... read more

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