My Earthquake Story

August 27th, 2011

As a gardener I felt I was on pretty good terms with Mother Earth. I try to treat her respectfully and trusted she’d do the same with me. So it was a total shock when she started throwing a fit in my house on Tuesday. Maybe not a total shock – about 10 months ago she did give me a hint that she was capable of this – but I never thought she’d do anything other than a brief display of temper.

Tuesday, August 23, was a beautiful day in central Virginia. Clear skies, cool temperatures (even a bit cold in the morning), low humidity. A good day to work in the garden and catch up on some housework since the spouse was away working in northern Virginia. While I was in the garden that morning, I noticed how quiet everything seemed but chalked it up to the time of day, time of year, whatever. I came indoors, made myself some lunch, put some towels in the clothes dryer and sat on the deck trying to even out my tan. Came back in, started to run water in the sink to clean up the lunch dishes and went to the dryer to get out the towels. I opened the dryer door and suddenly heard a loud rumbling noise, soon joined by rattling, sounds of things falling, breaking glass. I thought something was wrong with the dryer, but it swiftly dawned on me that something was wrong with the whole house, or the whole world. I ran outside to the deck. Not the smartest move, perhaps, but I felt better than staying inside waiting for the house to fall down on me. The shaking went on and on and on. I really have no idea how long, but it seemed like a long time. It wasn’t a steady shaking but seemed to subside only to resume just as intensely. The sound wasn’t a constant rumbling either, but with sharper booms fading away to rumbling. My impression was of a series of explosions. I assumed it was an earthquake, but was not certain, as I had never experienced anything like it. Eventually it seemed to be over. I ventured inside. The water was still running in the sink (it didn’t overflow). The electricity was still on. There was glass all over one counter in the kitchen. Some glass bottles I keep on the windowsill had fallen onto the counter and broken a drinking glass into a zillion sharp pieces. The bottles didn’t break. Strange. A board that was on a shelf in the laundry closet had fallen onto the floor. The vent cover above the fireplace door was hanging by one corner. Those were the things I noticed immediately. I looked around at the walls and ceilings but didn’t see any cracks. All windows were still intact. I tried to call the spouse, but didn’t get through. I texted him, but received nothing back. The internet connection was working, so I emailed him and my mother. I kept trying to call the spouse, but got nothing, not even ringback tone. My mother had been trying to call me all this time and eventually got through. While I was talking to her I got texts from the spouse and from my sister. And during all these frantic attempts at telecommunication, there were many, many aftershocks. Eventually the spouse and I were able to communicate in realtime and he decided to drive down to central Virginia as planned, although he asked me if I was sure I wanted to stay there. I said I was fine, had to clean up the kitchen, etc. etc. Everything would be OK. So he arrived around suppertime and we tried to have a more or less normal meal, although there were still frequent aftershocks. One especially large aftershock sent me hurrying back outside. We went to bed and fell into a fitful sleep hearing and feeling the earth rumble. Thing seemed to be calming down somewhat the next day and by bedtime we had not felt any aftershocks since midafternoon. Then as I was sort of awake around midnight, another rumbling started. I hadn’t really gotten back to sleep when there were two more aftershocks close together. I don’t know whether I was asleep or awake when the rumbling and shaking started anew, only longer and more intensely than any since the initial event. I would have run outside again, except the spouse was holding on to me. Another smaller aftershock occurred a few minutes later. And I said “Enough!”. We had planned to go back to northern Virginia on Thursday anyway, and it was technically Thursday, even if it was only 2 AM. So we packed up and headed back to northern Virginia. We’re still here – currently waiting to see how much Hurricane Irene will affect us.

I know how fortunate we were that nothing was really damaged at our house except my psyche. And that there were no serious injuries in the entire event, even though all of the 6 county schools were damaged, 3 of them badly, while school was in session. And that the nuke plant was as safe as it can be.

The list of aftershocks on the USGS website is far from complete. We heard and felt dozens up until the time we left early Thursday. Some time in the next couple of days, we’ll go back to central Virginia, but I think it’ll be a long time before I feel comfortable there again.

4 Responses to “My Earthquake Story”

  1. Helen says:

    Goodness, how scary. I would have gone outside as well, better to be outside with room to run than trapped in the house. I hope the hurricane doesnt impact on you too much – stay safe

    • entangled says:

      I think the usual advice is to stay inside if you’re inside, but get under a doorway or something heavy. I can’t say I thought much about it – just reacted – and my first impulse was to get outside.

      Hurricane-wise, it’s all over with here in northern Virginia. We’re in the western suburbs of Washington DC and other than a few tree branches down (and lots of leaves and sticks) we had no trouble with the storm. I guess it’s a different story in other parts of the area. We heard from a colleague near Baltimore that he can’t get out of his neighborhood due to downed trees and power lines.

  2. Wendy says:

    That’s CRAZY! I can’t believe there were so many aftershocks. It must have been really scary. I’m not sure what I would have done – I think I definitely would have tried to pick up and leave if we kept feeling afterschocks. it’s just so unpredictable, don’t you think? Wow. Hope your place survived the hurricane well. It didn’t do much to us – just some pretty strong winds for a few hours overnight. Wow. I can’t get over those aftershocks you had.

    • entangled says:

      Yeah, the aftershocks have turned me into a nervous nut. Any sudden noises and I go through the ceiling. We went back there on Monday and were woken up by another big aftershock Monday night. Tuesday there was one recorded aftershock in the morning, but while I was working in the garden I heard/felt on that wasn’t recorded by the USGS, but does show up on a nearby online seismograph display. I didn’t want to spend the night there again, so we didn’t. I really don’t want to sleep there again until it calms down.

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