Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.


DC Earthquake

Evacuation. There's been an earthquake in DC. No damage that I've seen, but they've cleared everyone out of the building as a precaution.

So you may have heard there was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia today.

My experience of it was relatively mild, but unsettling. The quake started with some light vibration — perhaps akin to a heavy truck driving next to the building — then escalated into something noticeably stronger for another 10-20 seconds (hard to say — time seemed to stretch in that moment). Items suspended from the ceiling and toys on my desk shook and shifted a bit, but otherwise things stayed in place. My sequence of reactions:

  • Is someone working on the air system upstairs again?
  • Wait, it’s still going. Could this be an earthquake? Or is this just me?
  • (Shaking intensifies.) Did something explode near the Capitol? (Stand up to look out the window.)
  • OMG, I think this is actually an earthquake!
  • (Remember unsteady granite tiles on the NPR roof held on by hefty straps.) This is not the most structurally sound building. Crap.
  • (Shaking finally ends.) WTF!

Yes, instead of ducking under my desk, I stood up to look out the window. A colleague later duly mocked me for this.

A few minutes later, NPR admin folks had us all evacuate the building so building engineers could inspect. Meanwhile, Talk of the Nation kept rolling. And NPR homepage editors didn’t miss a beat, keeping the site going via wifi from outside. Eventually, we were allowed back in the building, with a request to let the All Things Considered and NPR Newscast staffs up first, as they were due on air all too soon.

Traffic reportedly was awful and Metro pretty crowded after that, as people across the region left work early. I felt quite envious of Rob, who had chosen today to bike to work for the first time. But by the time I left work, around 6 p.m., Yellow Line stations were fairly clear (though I did feel uneasy going underground). Trains were moving at only 15 mph, but seemed smoother than usual. I had no trouble getting a train, and then no trouble getting a bus home — really, no complaints at all. (From what I saw on Twitter, riders of other lines may have had different experiences.)

At home, the “earthquake damage” seemed to consist of a few frames knocked askew on the wall. Lucky, really.

I am, however, quite saddened over the damage to the National Cathedral.

A Washington Post account of the earthquake had an interesting observation from the National Zoo:

The first warnings of the earthquake may have occurred at the National Zoo, where officials said some animals seemed to feel it coming before people did. The red ruffed lemurs began “alarm calling” a full 15 minutes before the quake hit, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. In the Great Ape House, Iris, an orangutan, let out a guttural holler 10 seconds before keepers felt the quake. The flamingos huddled together in the water seconds before people felt the rumbling. The rheas got excited. And the hooded mergansers — a kind of duck — dashed for the safety of the water.

— The Washington Post: 5.8 Virginia earthquake shakes east coast, rattles residents (Aug. 23, 2011)