Earthquake Shakes East Coast

The walls swayed, the floor shook and pictures rattled against the wall. Who knew? An earthquake in Washington, D.C.?

Up on our office building’s eighth floor, my CQ Researcher colleagues and I had a rude awakening just before 2 p.m. today when a magnitude 5.9 temblor shuddered along the entire East Coast, from Virginia to New York and as far away as New England and perhaps beyond. Another strong quake struck Monday night in Colorado, a magnitude 5.3 temblor that was the state’s biggest in more than a century.

For me, today’s quake in D.C. brought back memories of another I experienced, oddly enough, in Manhattan in the 1980s, when I felt walls shake and china rattle in a cupboard. As I noted in a CQ Researcher report last year on earthquake threats worldwide, the U.S. Geological Survey says earthquakes pose a significant risk to 75 million people in 39 states, from the Pacific Northwest and California to the Midwest, Carolinas and New England. David Applegate, senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, told me that Manhattan sits atop a zone of ancient faults, including a small one running down Harlem's legendary 125th Street. He called a quake underneath New York City an example of a low-probability, high-consequence event.

So far, the reports in Washington and other cities indicate minor damage and no injuries. And in an hour, we were allowed back in the building.

For background, see my CQ Researcher report, “Earthquake Threat,” April 9, 2010 (subscription required).

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor