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All Shook Up

August 25th, 2011 (07:52 am)

Tuesday afternoon at about 1:50, I was standing in front of a house on Nelson Avenue, canvassing the neighborhood to get out the vote in the Democratic primary for state senate. Suddenly the fence was moving, and a nearby tree shook wildly. My first thought was that the wind was amazingly strong, to make a wrought iron fence sway like that. Then I realized the sidewalk under my feet was swaying too.

Felt earthquakes are rare here; 6.0 earthquakes are pretty much unheard of. There was one in Virginia in 1897, but it was way down in the southwest corner of the state. I'd been in an earthquake in California, but a lot of people here had never experienced one. For the rest of the afternoon, strangers were bonding over the experience. "Did you feel that earthquake?" (A kindergartner at my son's school called it a "planet shake.")

At home a while later, I saw that some books and other items had fallen off shelves. Nothing had broken. My son reports that his GeoTrax train setup in the living room suffered a few downed stop signs. In my office, a commemorative wooden gavel had jumped from a shelf and somehow landed on my desk chair, three feet away. Also near the desk, a heavy paperweight had fallen to the floor from a high shelf. If I'd been sitting there at the time, it could have hit me in the head. It wasn't until later that evening that I noticed we do have some damage to the house, though it doesn't appear to be serious. Some of the stone veneer fell off our chimney. Across the street, our neighbor's chimney sustained much worse. The bricks in her chimney actually shifted, leaving gaps between them.

Our homeowner's insurance does not cover earthquake damage. But I am relieved to know that it does cover damage caused by volcanic eruptions. We get a lot of those in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Stay tuned this weekend, when we're planning a hurricane.

Our chimney damage.