Published 5:18 pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

FARMVILLE – An earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter Scale, with an epicenter in Louisa County, shook Farmville and much of the East Coast at 1:51 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
<br />Aftershocks have continued, the latest a 4.5 reading on the Richter Scale registered at 1:07 a.m. on Thursday morning that was felt locally and in multi-states.

The Tuesday earthquake shook localities as far north as New York City and New Hampshire, with President Obama reportedly feeling it on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. And the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. was damaged.

Lasting approximately a minute, the earthquake shook furniture in Farmville, demonstrably in upper stories of buildings, and rattled nerves, as it did in Buckingham, Cumberland and the East Coast.

Whole buildings began to shake, those working in offices on streets accustomed to seeing large truck traffic wondering what kind of huge vehicle was passing by. But the shaking never stopped and not even Amtrak's Sante Fe Superchief would rattle such rumbling.

Then they knew.


Family members and friends were soon calling one another to ask if they had felt the earthquake.

They had. Millions of Americans had felt the quake.

Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett was in a meeting at the Commonwealth Regional Council, with administrators from Buckingham and Cumberland, when the earthquake hit.

“The whole building shook,” Bartlett said. “It did alarm most everybody at the CRC.”

Bartlett said he returned to the Prince Edward County Courthouse, which was quickly evacuated as a safety precaution, the county administrator praising the sheriff's department for its good work.

The courthouse was inspected, no damage was found, and the building was reopened later that afternoon.

Bartlett, who was stationed in California with the Marines when the destructive earthquake struck San Francisco in 1989 during the Oakland-San Francisco World Series, said there were more than a few “skittish” people at the courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

The only report of damage in Prince Edward, he said, was a chimney pulled away from a house.

Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates was driving his truck when the earthquake hit and, like most who were in vehicles, did not know an earthquake had occurred. Spates said there have been no reports of damage in Farmville.

Products were reportedly knocked off the shelves in some Farmville stores during the earthquake.

Longwood University, meanwhile, reported no damage from the quake and no injuries.

In Buckingham, there was minor damage reported to one home in the New Canton area and minor damage to the high school, according to E-911 coordinator, Kevin Flippen, who explained that an old chimney at the high school was damaged. The chimney was due for inspection by a structural engineer on Wednesday.

Flippen reported that the County's dispatcher received 115 calls in the 15 minutes following the earthquake. The Code Red warning system was used to direct residents to call in only if they had injuries or needed to report property damage.

No damage was reported in Cumberland County.

Gov. McDonnell's Briefing

Gov. McDonnell described such a strong earthquake as “a very rare event for Virginia” and it equals the most severe earthquake in Virginia's history-a 5.9 earthquake in May of 1897.

By comparison, a 5.9 earthquake earlier in the year in New Zealand killed dozens of people because of geological differences in the two locations.

Of concern to many were the two nuclear reactors at Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station in Mineral, just a few miles from the earthquake's epicenter, but the reactors were “shut down safely and no major damage has been reported,” a Dominion press release shortly after the quake.

“The station declared an Alert, the next to the lowest of the four emergency classifications of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Dominion stated.

“The earthquake was felt at the company's other Virginia nuclear power station, Surry Power Station in southeast Virginia, but not as strongly,” the press release related.

In Buckingham, Dominion's new Bear Garden power station shut down automatically as a result of the earthquake, according to Dominion.

During his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. McDonnell said statewide damage was “very, very minor” and that “no state of emergency” was needed. Of the North Anna nuclear reactors, the governor declared that “all systems worked as planned.”

Inspectors, he added, were “looking at every inch” of those facilities to make certain there was no damage.

Buildings in Louisa County were damaged, due to their proximity to the earthquake's epicenter, but there have been reports of injuries.

The quake's epicenter was five miles from the Town of Mineral and seven miles from the Town of Louisa.

During his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. McDonnell described feeling the earthquake hit while he was speaking on the phone with his son, a UVA student. When his son told him that he could feel the quake, too, the governor said he knew then that it was not an isolated event.

Nor was it.