All shook up in the D.C. area

Well, friends, it has been A Week.

Aside from my normal job responsibilities (of which there seem to be many), I had the pleasure of joining much of the East Coast in experiencing our very first honest-to-goodness earthquake on Tuesday afternoon.

I’m sure you don’t need any details from me, a lowly blogger in Maryland — but in case you do, stories of the 5.8-magnitude quake abound online.

Now, I realize this was not a true disaster. To my knowledge, no lives were lost — and most of the affected areas emerged with just a few cracks and bruises. At my own home in Maryland, I arrived to find a few books knocked from the bookcase and a photo lying flat on a desk. Though the Washington Monument and National Cathedral have reported damage, no one seems to be injured. That’s the important thing.

But it scared us. It scared me. We were all doing our normal Tuesday nonsense — working; running errands; going to school. And then the walls started shaking. I was writing at my desk and answering emails with a giant cup of hot tea next to me. Rumbling from the ceiling was the first indication that anything was wrong, and I leaned around my computer screen to lock eyes with my coworker.

“Do you feel that?”

It was innocent enough — and I didn’t really think anything crazy was happening until our vertical blinds began to sway. In the five or so seconds before first feeling the tremors and then getting to my feet in alarm, the entire building began to shake violently. I swiped my cell phone and stood in the doorway separating our office from the hallway, where I saw most of my other coworkers streaming into the corridor in alarm. Everyone bore the same shocked, anxious expression.

“I think it’s an earthquake,” I squeaked. And it was.

It’s a weird feeling, that intense vertigo — a sensation that you can’t right yourself and have no protection from whatever Mother Nature is throwing at you. The Washington, D.C., area has long been plagued with everything from terrorist attacks to heavy snowfall, sniper shootings and record-breaking humidity. In 2002, an F4 tornado wiped out downtown La Plata, a neighboring town, and scenes I once imagined happening only in action flicks played out just 10 miles from home. (The tornado’s path is pictured above.)

I don’t mean to build this up into some giant thing that has Californians scoffing at us even more than they already are, but I’ll say this: we’re not equipped for earthquakes, and the D.C. area is constantly on red alert for danger. When the shaking first began, many workers in town thought it was another terrorist attack. My dad, a tour guide, thought a bomb had gone off at the hotel where he was meeting his tour group. My sister believed a burglar had jumped on the roof and was trying to break into the house.

Basically, it was a hairy, scary day.

The earthquake was over in less than a minute, but my hands shook for hours.

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13 thoughts on “All shook up in the D.C. area

  1. No scoffing from this Californian. A 5.8 isn’t anything to sneeze at and when you live in an area that isn’t known for earthquakes, I can imagine feeling one would be even more frightening. I am glad no one was seriously hurt.

  2. That would be scary! My dad called to see if I had felt it, but I hadn’t; I didn’t believe anyone as far west as Indiana would have felt the earthquake, but apparently some did and I’m just oblivious. Glad you’re ok!

  3. I’ve never been in an earthquake, but I can imagine how scary it would be, especially considering they just don’t happen there. I can totally understand thinking at first that it was something else, like a bomb. I’m glad everyone’s okay.

    My husband actually felt it at work, barely, but he’s in Pittsburgh, which seems pretty far away from where it happened.

  4. I think your point about terrorist attacks is what made me angry at reports about people (not everyone, obviously) from the west coast “scoffing” at our earthquake. My husband was watching Keith Olberman’s show andhe said when he lived in CA & it snowed, people freaked OUT, because it almost never happens. Same deal with our earthquake, especially so close to the 10 year 9/11 anniversary.

  5. If you aren’t used to it, of course it is scary! You didn’t know at first what was going on, and these days your first reaction IS terrorist attack. If our ground shook in FL we would all freak out I assure you. We like our acts of God detectible on radar! Ha!

  6. I’m glad that everything was okay. I was scared for you all, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be there. I was appalled by the number of people I saw on twitter who were discounting the feelings of those who have never experienced an earthquake before.

  7. My son lives about 150 miles from the epicenter and didn’t feel a thing. Some people here said they felt something, but we didn’t. I’m glad everyone was safe.

  8. We had a similar one here last year and it was a bit unsettling! I’m glad to know everything is ok for you. I know small earthquakes can do a lot of damage to cities who aren’t built to survive them. We aren’t, and that little shake we had left me shaking for a few hours too!

  9. Hey, I’m a reader who doesn’t really comment… so, hi!
    I’m from Christchurch, New Zealand. We had a 7.4 earthquake just down the road from us on Sept. 4 last year. It’s almost a year since and we’re still having aftershocks – have you had any of those? That’s the nasty part, they come when you’re not ready and remind you of that big one which was so strong that you couldn’t stand up or walk. So I really sympathise with you. It’s hard when buildings aren’t ready for earthquakes. Christchurch had another one in February, really close to the city, it destroyed almost all of the CBD and killed hundreds of people, even though we’re supposed to have strict building codes. It’s really sad and awful. I’m not saying that what you went through was nothing, just that I understand the fear involved with earthquakes. I hope you guys don’t have too many aftershocks!

    • Oh goodness, Theresa, I’m so sorry to hear about the continuing quakes in Christchurch — we were all thinking of you last year and will continue to think of you now. What we experienced was nowhere close to what you’re going through, though it’s very scary all the same.

      We have had a few aftershocks here, but they were very minimal — and one was in the middle of the night, so I didn’t feel it (heavy sleeper!). Sending good vibes your way.

  10. Oy, I didn’t even feel the earthquake (though everyone around me did…weird) but I was filled with this impending sense of doom for the rest of the day. It was a terrible feeling that I just couldn’t shake (pun intended).

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