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.