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Tri-State officials say quake caused no major problems in region

August 23, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Bricks fell from a chimney to the sidewalk along Washington Avenue at West Side Avenue Monday. The effects of an earthquake in central Virginia seemed to have toppled the chimney at the West Side Avenue residence.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Government officials across the Tri-State area were checking buildings for structural integrity, some offices were briefly evacuated in Franklin County, Pa., and emergency dispatch centers were swamped with calls in the wake of an earthquake that struck Tuesday afternoon about 123 miles south of Hagerstown.

The epicenter of the 1:51 p.m. quake was about nine miles south of Mineral, Va., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS reported a magnitude 2.8 aftershock from the same spot in Virginia at 2:46 p.m.

A supervisor at Washington County's 911 dispatch center said the moments after the quake were hectic, with dispatchers fielding "dozens and dozens" of calls.

"A lot of them came in simultaneously," the supervisor said. "They were backed up for a little bit."

Many of the callers were reporting that their houses had shaken or calling because they didn't know what happened, he said.

"There were very few reports of damage," the dispatch supervisor said.

One caller reported a damaged chimney on West Side Avenue in Hagerstown.

The city fire department responded to that call, said Hagerstown Communications Manager Mary King, who said there were no reports of injuries or significant property damage within city limits.

"Fire officials taped off the affected area, and city inspectors were called in to inspect the property," King said in a news release. "At this time the cause of the chimney collapse has not been determined. Also, as a result of the quake, there was no disruption in utility or public safety services in the city."

She said city inspectors would respond to calls from residents who believe their homes might have been damaged by the quake.

Richard Wright, a spokesman for Washington County Public Schools,  said school administrators were asked to check their buildings for damage after the quake. The only damage reported was a small crack in a cinder-block wall in a classroom at Clear Spring High, but officials weren't sure whether it was new or had been there before the quake.

Wednesday is the first day of classes for Washington County public-school students.

Less than an hour after the shock hit the area, Washington County workers were checking the structural integrity of county-owned buildings downtown, said Rich Eichelberger, chief of construction of Washington County engineering and construction.

Eichelberger said he was inspecting the Washington County Courthouse and county offices at 33-35 W. Washington St., and other crews were checking other buildings.

A Washington County Sheriff's Office sergeant at the courthouse said there were a few disruptions when the shaking stopped, but he said court business went on without delays, and there was no evacuation.

When the earthquake struck, a tree fell in a yard beside the Clear Spring Town Hall building on Cumberland Street, Town Clerk Juanita Grimm said.

Grimm said she heard the tree when it fell.

"The building shook here. It scared me to death," Grimm said.

Besides checking Clear Spring High School for possible earthquake damage, authorities also checked an apartment next to a hardware store in town and a home on Big Spring Road, said Tony Lida, a volunteer with the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

No earthquake damage was found at either location, Lida said.

MARC commuter train service was suspended as of 3 p.m., while Amtrak and CSX Transportation officials inspected tracks, tunnels and bridges, officials said.

After the quake, Maryland State Highway Administration officials and Transportation Authority engineers started inspecting bridges for any damage, officials said in a SHA news release. They concentrated on larger and taller structures, also inspecting traffic signal poles, light poles, overhead sign structures and utilities, the release said.

Maintenance crews also inspected roads across the state, looking for any unusual bumps or depressions on road surfaces. The state highway agency had not received any reports of damage, the release said.


Pa., W.Va. feel it

In Franklin County, Pa., the Emergency Operations Center was activated, according to David K. Donohoe, director of the county Department of Emergency Services.

"Minor structural damage has been reported in Franklin County and damage assessment teams are in the field. No reports of injuries have been reported," Donohoe said in an email.  

The Franklin County Courthouse and the Administrative annex in Chambersburg, Pa., were both evacuated for about 10 minutes after the quake, said Donna Crider, a member of the Franklin County Board of  Commissioners staff.

In West Virginia, the Berkeley County Judicial Center in Martinsburg was evacuated for precautionary reasons by the authority of the circuit judges in the building, according to the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, which provides security for the building.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she was halfway through her opening statement in the trial of a former sheriff's deputy when the building began to shake and the proceeding before 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh was halted.

Meanwhile, Berkeley County Public Schools remained on schedule. No damage was reported, according to Sharon M. Kisner, coordinator of communications for the school system.



A rare occurence

The situation caused no problems at Meritus Medical Center east of Hagerstown, said spokeswoman Mary Rizk.

"We felt it but there isn't any immediate reaction or problem," with people wondering what the shaking was, Rizk said.

Funkstown Town Clerk/Treasurer Brenda Haynes was in Town Hall on the phone with a reporter at The Herald-Mail office in downtown Hagerstown when she felt the ground shake.

"Just everything in here just shook," Haynes said.

If people did not immediately recognize what was happening, that could be because earthquakes are not common in this area.

 "As far as I know, we have never had a tremor here at all during my lifetime. I don't remember anything like this," said Washington County historian John Frye, who is in his 70s.

Frye said that 40 or so years ago a tremor woke him in the middle of the night at his home, which at the time was in Gapland. He thought it might have been an earthquake, but found out the next morning there had been an explosion at what was then an explosives factory in Falling Waters, W.Va.



Staff writers Julie E. Greene, Heather Keels, Roxann Miller, Dave McMillion and Matthew Umstead contributed to this story.

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