Well, unless you've been living under a rock, of course you've heard. I think yesterday's earthquake just a short distance from Alexandria, VA proves that the WEEK OF ALEX quite literally rocks! 

Seriously, Wendy goes out of town and I get to experience an actual earthquake. Let me tell you, she missed out. 

Now all of you Californians out there are going to scoff in my general direction for having "survived" a 5.9 magnitude quake, but don't make me remind you that you can't drive in the snow. Regardless of whether or not it was a "real" quake by your definitions, it was still a rather crazy experience for me, and something I won't soon forget.

I was at the dentist's office (which is actually a small house in Old Town) in their 2nd floor waiting room when I heard and felt a low rumble. At first it felt like a truck was driving by, then it progressed to an off balance washing machine feeling, and a few seconds later it was rocking and swaying the whole building. Another patient in the waiting room and I just sort of silently looked at each other for a few seconds until we both decided, without saying a word to each other, it was time to get out of that place. 

With the house swaying I jumped out of my seat for the door and headed down the stairs. I bounded down the 20 or so stairs with my feet touching only about 3 or 4. I know you're supposed to stand in the doorway, but I didn't trust these non earthquake tested homes enough to do that, so outside was my logical option.

No sooner than I reached the street than the shaking stopped. It went on for about 30-40 seconds total, but it felt much longer. I immediately got on twitter and searched for #Earthquake to see what others were saying. Sure enough, DC, Philly, NYC, Richmond, Columbus, the entire East Coast was a buzz with "An earthquake, here...really?" posts.

After the excitement died down a bit, I went back inside, had my teeth cleaned, and got in touch with many friends to let them know I was ok. I checked in on Lulu using our web cam, she was doing fine and just looking around. The phones were overloaded so it took me a while to get in touch with Wendy. Thanks to Facebook, Wendy's cousin Julia was able to see I was okay and then spoke with Wendy. The Internet is awesome.

Here's a great video that shows the effect the quake had on the rest of the country.

When I got home I surveyed our "damage." It looks like we have a new small crack or two in the hallway wall, but the most significant issue was simply that a few items fell off of the wall and shelves. 

The office cabinet door opened. *The horror*

And shutters that were propped in place had fallen in. It really could have been so much worse and I feel quite fortunate. 

I did a little mental checklist of things I felt I needed to check before I could give our house the all clear. 

I checked the:

  • Gas meter to be sure there was no visible damage. 
  • Visible plumbing pipes in the basement to make sure there were no openings or cracks.
  • Waste line to be sure there was no water running down the sides
  • Windows and doors to be sure they opened properly.
  • Air Conditioning condensate drain to be sure it wasn't broken.
  • Toilet to be sure it flushed.
  • Sinks to be sure they drained.
  • Outside of the house to make sure there were no major new cracks.
  • Floor joists to be sure they didn't pull away from the walls. 
  • Electrical panel to be sure there were no breakers tripped.

Everything looked pretty good. Any quake veterans out there have additional things I should have checked?

Later in the evening I took a long walk around Old Town with Lulu to see what, if any, damage had been done. I figured the shaking was too violent to have left all of these 100-200 year old homes unharmed that had never seen anything like this. I didn't have to go very far to see some of the damage.

A rather large house on Prince St. lost the side of one of their chimneys, exposing the flue chambers within.

Just a few doors down from that house, a house whose lentils were already sagging had one fully give way. They're lucky the one on the first floor didn't drop too.

From the patterns of damage I noticed throughout Old Town, it seemed that chimneys were actually the worst suffering elements. Their precarious and exposed perch seemed to be very vulnerable to the swaying. This was evident with everything from major crumbling...

To significant shifting

To minor and hardly apparent cracking.

But the common element I noticed was that the quake seemed to affect the largest houses the most. 

If you have a very tall house with a large chimney, you should probably call in a mason to give it a once over.

The shaking didn't spare one of the most historic structures in Old Town, Gadsby's Tavern. It's hard to see in the photo, but the caution tape is up because the chimney was quit unsettled.

I saw the owner of one house that had some damage when he was coming out of his front door. He noticed me looking up at his chimney and asked was I saw. At first he seemed a bit annoyed that I was looking, but once he saw the issue he was thankful I had pointed it out. The last thing he wanted was the whole chimney coming down during a major wind storm.

Overall, it was an experience I'm glad I had but I would rather not soon repeat. Here's hoping that this was the main event, and not a precursor to a larger event.

At the very least there's been some good earthquake humor that came from this event. Here is my favorite courtesy of our neighbor, Katie.

Did you know that the Washington Monument is leaning a bit after the earthquake? Yep, MSNBC reports that it is leaning slightly to the left, but Fox News says it is definitely leaning to the right.

I hope you didn't end up with any damage from this record setting quake. Share some of your experiences and stories, I'd love to hear about them.

Oh, and one other thing. I think Lulu knew something was up. In the 36 hours before the quake, she stopped eating and started acting a little funny. She's normally calm, but for the day before she was pacing and running back and forth in the house constantly. When I got home, she was happy I was home, but was back to being calm again. She ate all of her food, and now she's just laying around on the couch. I know animals sometimes know, and I think this was the case for Lulu.

Comments 11

Comments

8/24/2011 at 12:49 PM
We felt it all the way up here in Ontario, too. There is a lot of construction happening on the college campus where I work, so I didn't feel the rumbling but I DID definitely feel the swaying.

Everyone always checks in with me to confirm whether rumblings are earthquakes or not - being from British Columbia originally, I'm one of the few who has felt an earthquake before!
julia
8/24/2011 at 12:57 PM
woohoo I made the blog! Glad everyone is ok. I'm pretty sure I scared the shit out of Wendy though!
Alex
8/25/2011
Thanks for connecting with her. I know she was worried and phones were really not working.
8/24/2011 at 2:10 PM
You missed the shakey shakey in our sub-basement. It first started with the monitors shaking, then everything including feeling a rumbling in the floor. Then, Martin was like "Let's get the eff out of here." And, so we did.
Alex
8/25/2011
I remember the small quake a few years back when we were in the SB. That was unsettling, but it just sounded like a cart in the hallway (it was a 3.6 I think). I can't imagine what this one must have been like for you guys.
SpencerKoch
8/24/2011 at 7:43 PM
great post. i saw the national cathedral damage, and it was pretty impressive too.
Alex
8/25/2011
The damage at the Cathedral and Washington Monument is hard to comprehend because the buildings are so large. The impact looks so small until they show the up close photos. But I'm not surprised. I was on the 2nd floor and it felt like the whole place was going to crumble, I can't imagine when it was like 500 feet above the ground.
Brendan
8/24/2011 at 10:12 PM
Chimneys are bad enough because: 1. they're exposed to water and weather from four sides so they age faster than face brick (same for parapets, they weather on front and back), and 2. almost no one ever points up their chimney because getting up there is too hard, so mortar deteriorates. And it's fine until there's a hurricane wind...or gravity goes diagonal instead of vertical.
Alex
8/25/2011
I know one or two cracked ones gave way in last night's aftershock.

In addition to what you said, during the quake the chimneys have far less support on their back edge than the rest of the large building does, so it essentially shakes itself apart as the rest of the building sways.

I have been able to see a few places where there are two chimneys on a house and one had been re-pointed and/or relined, and the other had not. In some of those cases only the un-maintained chimney suffered damage. It's quite interesting to walk around and look at all of the issues.
8/25/2011 at 10:19 PM
Yeah, we got a decent shaking up in Philly. I was at my job in S. Jersey at the time, and the building shook for what felt like a long time, first subtly up and down, and then laterally.

We checked our house for damage, and found a crack in the foundation that we couldn't say for sure whether it had been there before or not. Initially, we went with it being earthquake damage. But then, I found some photos I took of the house before we bought it, including the basement, and the crack was there. So, no damage after all.

Philly and South Jersey supposedly registered a 4 on the scale. In the end, I got to ride out my first quake, no harm done, and everything was back to normal 1/2 hour later. Just right...

I actually did look forward to reading your post about what happened; glad it was no big deal. I bet it would have been much worse if you hadn't discovered, and fixed, the termite damage *before* the quake!
8/26/2011 at 2:53 PM
I was at work at the Patent Office and the new building was built to withstand a 5.0 earthquake. I was on the phone with Ohio when the phone happened and they felt it as soon as I hung up the phone to evacuate. The entire complex evacuated to the gardens for about 45 minutes. We did have a little damage at the PTO, the quake dislodged some bricks on the sidewalk in front on the buildings. At home (just across the Beltway), we came through unscathed!
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