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Speak Out: Where Were You During the Virginia Earthquake?

Read what scientists and government officials have learned in light of the largest East Coast earthquake since 1944.

A year ago today, an area known for its political shakeups was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

The rattling began at 1:51 p.m. with an epicenter in central Virginia, about 84 miles from the Washington, D.C. metro region where many in the midst of their workday felt the shaking.

Some 148,000 logged on to the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Did You Feel It?" page and reported feeling the quake.  Scientists estimate as many as one third of the U.S population could have felt the shaking.

“For many, the earthquake was nothing more than a brief scare and something to wonder about afterwards. That was not the case, however, for a number of Virginians whose lives were significantly changed that day. Thousands of buildings were damaged and several were destroyed. Thankfully, injuries were minor,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in statement Tuesday.  

No one was killed in the earthquake but the effects of the rumble were visible throughout the region. Most of the damage was in Louisa County, well to the south of D.C. and Northern Virginia. 

suffered damage from the quake. The monument could be closed for the next two years while repairs are man. 

and fell onto several parked cars while the Alexandria City Hall and the nearby historic Gadsby’s Old Tavern also suffered damage.

Further to the south in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park damage was minimual. A tile reportedly fell out the ceiling at in Manassas Park, according to local officials. Fall classes for 2011 hadn’t yet begun.

Earthquake damage in all Northern Virginia locales fell below the $704,000 threshold needed to receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)

In October, FEMA officials originally denied a request from Virginia officials for federal damage assistance, according to information from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.

The governor called FEMA’s decision “unfair,” particularly because of the damaged to homes, public buildings and other property.

Virginia continued to work with FEMA to identify additional damage and then appealed the decision Oct. 28. FEMA in turn granted disaster assistance on Nov. 4, according to a release issued by the governor Wednesday.

“The strong support of Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Jim Webb, Congressman Eric Cantor and Virginia’s entire congressional delegation was appreciated and aided in ultimately securing disaster recovery assistance from FEMA," McDonnell said in a release. "That assistance has made a big difference for our citizens in Louisa County and other Virginia localities." 

State agencies and local government eventually received more than $31 million in assistance from FEMA, while 6,400 homeowners and renters received  $16.5 million from FEMA to rebuild, according to the release.

One year and 450 aftershocks later, scientists are still learning about 2011 quake and the fault lines responsible for it.

Earthquakes in this region are rare, but the 2011 tremor didn’t come as a complete shock to scientists who’d already pegged the Central Virginia seismic zone as one with an elevated risk for an earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

For 10 days in mid-July, USGS scientists conducted geophysical surveys by air over Louisa, Goochland and Flavanna counties in Central Virginia near Richmond, according to the agency.

Learning more about geological features and mapping the fault lines in the area will help seismologist learn more about the Central Virginia seismic zones.

The USGS may get a boost in funding for research from the White House; agency officials said President Barack Obama requested his budget for Fiscal Year 2013 to assess earthquake hazards in the eastern U.S.

Patch editors Jason Spencer and Drew Hansen contributed to this report.

Joe George August 23, 2012 at 01:56 PM
I was at work at the Pentagon when the earthquake hit. One of my co-workers thought that someone was shaking the cabinet that was up against her desk, until she realized that no one was near her. She was the only one in our office that was HERE during the 9/11 attacks, which the rest of us though (ever so briefly) was happening again. After the wave of relief that it was NOT an attack, the rest of my time here was contacting family (here and elsewhere) to either find out if they were okay or to let them know that we were just fine.
Erin Gibson August 23, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I was working from home and initially thought there had been an explosion somewhere in the distance. But things were definitely shaking and rattling in my house, so my initial reaction was to run outside, which I did. Not sure if that is what you are supposed to do during an earthquake, but just thought if things were going to start falling, including the walls, I was better off outside.
Jim Kirkland August 24, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Looking out the 10th floor window of my office, wondering if everyone else could see the buildings dancing or if it was just me...
Joe George August 24, 2012 at 09:30 AM
Erin, that is what my wife and kids did...get away from the house, and hope you don't run into a sinkhole. LOL
VABUCKI August 24, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Sitting in a timeshare presentation on the 8th floor in Atlantic City. Most people thought it was part of the show. I got the heck down the stairwell fast...
Signorafarfalla August 25, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I was in Wegmans and it was so strong, part of the ceiling came down near the deli, wine bottles fell, shampoo was spilled all over the place. I thought a 757 missed Dulles and landed on Lee Highway. I have felt west coast quakes, this was scary and just proved we are so not ready for this.
M. Edward Byrne August 25, 2012 at 08:46 PM
That is the correct thing to do, I have a house in Dumfries (no damage) and have lived in Virginia off and on for many years, but I have also lived in California and Washington State. I have experienced large earthquakes in both states. If it is safe to do so get outside where nothing can fall on you, most people are killed or injured by falling objects. If not able to do so get under a strong doorway it is better than in an open room. We keep a few items in every room of our house in case of an earthquake, sometimes you can be trapped and it could take a while for someone to rescue you. We keep a few water bottles and some dry snacks like bags of nuts and pop tarts. A cell phone may or may not work.
Tony P August 26, 2012 at 03:22 PM
At work down in Stafford. I thought there were workers moving equipment on the roof until someone told me it was an earthquake. My first ever experience with a quake.
John September 18, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Was at home on the second level of a two story house, and the floor started bouncing up and down. The whole house was rocking back and forth, a definite first! ((Manassas)) Went outside and people were running out of their houses scared and wondering what had happened. I was telling the neighbors it was an earthquake and it was pretty bad for this area. heh Lived in Manassas for 30+ years and only 1 other time felt/heard a small quake back in 91 or 92 i believe. Nothing like this one though, this was rocking and rolling the entire house. When you think about the fact that not only was YOUR house moving but the whole half of the east coast was moving, that really puts things into perspective...

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