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Remembering the Virginia earthquake, 10 years ago

August 23, 2011
August 23, 2011(USGS)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 1:41 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 23, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Ten years ago, millions of people were shocked and surprised at the sudden shaking on the afternoon of August 23, 2011.

The quake measured 5.8 on the Richter scale and was centered about 5 miles south of Mineral, happening at 1:51 p.m.

It was felt as far north as Rhode Island, New York, and into Canada. As far south as Florida. The shaking was felt as far west as Arkansas and Illinois. According to the USGS shaking was felt up to 600 miles away from the epicenter. This was one of the most powerful earthquakes for the east coast in history.

WHY WAS IT FELT OVER SUCH A GREAT DISTANCE?

East coast earthquakes can be felt over much greater distances than West coast earthquakes. According to the USGS, this is because the rocks are older, and more dense. “Faults on those older rocks have had more time to heal, allowing seismic waves to cross them more efficiently when an earthquake occurs.” (USGS)

Ten years since the Mineral earthquake
Ten years since the Mineral earthquake(USGS)

Damage from the 2011 Mineral Earthquake

Following the earthquake, many buildings were temporarily evacuated throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The North Anna nuclear power station, located about 12 miles from the main shock epicenter, was shut down as a result of strong shaking from the earthquake. The shaking caused rockfalls as far as 150 miles away and water-level changes in wells up to 340 miles away.

Two buildings collapsed in the town of Mineral, and the ceiling of the Town Hall collapsed as well. The North Anna Nuclear Generating Station, which was about ten miles from the epicenter of the quake, shut down immediately afterward before power could be lost.

Several homes and businesses were damaged closest to the epicenter. Two schools had to be demolished because the damage was so extensive. Some other homes suffered minor damage as far away as 80 miles from Mineral.

The air control tower at Richmond International Airport was briefly evacuated and many downtown Richmond buildings were evacuated following the quake. Both Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens reportedly shut down all rides while inspections were being conducted. The Washington monument was badly damaged and repairs took several years. The monument didn’t reopen to the public until 2014. The National Cathedral is still being repaired.

The quake led to a gas leak in Charlottesville, damage to historic landmarks in Culpeper, a gas leak in Fredericksburg, and a burst pipe causing flooding in the Pentagon.

Parts of the Pentagon, the White House, the U.S. Capitol and federal agencies were evacuated.

Buildings in Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware, and states all throughout the region were evacuated due to the quake as well.

The earthquake struck an area that historically is not seismically active. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the largest recorded earthquake in Virginia history was a 5.9 on the scale, centered around Giles County in 1897. The Mineral quake was the largest to have occurred east of the Rocky Mountains since that one.

There is a fault line in Bergton, which runs parallel to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and that line is why the Louisa quake was felt from Canada to Georgia. The energy from the quake traveled through the mountain ridge-lines.

Hundreds of aftershocks were felt in Louisa later that night and numerous earthquakes have been felt in the area since then.

While it didn’t cause any deaths or major injuries, it did cause $80 million in damage to homes, schools and public buildings in Louisa, Virginia. The Washington Monument sustained $15 million in damage from the quake. The National Cathedral took $34 million in damages. Total damage from the earthquake was estimated at $200-300 million dollars.

HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKES

Here’s a map of historical earthquakes of Virginia and West Virginia since 1812. This data comes from the USGS. The largest earthquakes are the red dots with the information on the earthquake detailed. The Central Virginia seismic zone which is where the Mineral earthquake occurred has quite the history of earthquakes, and you can see the cluster of historical earthquakes in that area.

Earthquakes of Virginia and West Virginia
Earthquakes of Virginia and West Virginia(WHSV)

One of the more fascinating earthquakes in our history is the Luray earthquake of 1918. This was an April snow day with heavy, wet snow all day. The snow started to accumulate late day as it got dark and widespread snow of 8″-12″ was reported across the Valley.

Around 9 p.m., the earth shook. A 4.6 magnitude earthquake centered on the Luray area. According to reports windows shattered and plaster walls and ceilings cracked.

MORE INFORMATION

If you want to read more on the research that has been done since the 2011 Mineral earthquake:

This link goes into greater detail with the difference in East Coast and West Coast earthquakes.

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