- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

RICHMOND — A rare but moderate earthquake shook buildings and jangled nerves yesterday afternoon, but did little, if any, damage across the region.

“We were in the house, and it shook three times. I thought a truck had come by and had almost hit the house. It was scary,” said Richmond resident Lena Hargrove, 54.

No injuries were reported, but people reported feeling the magnitude 4.5 temblor as far north as Baltimore and as far south as Raleigh, N.C.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the temblor struck about 3:59 EST. Its epicenter was located 28 miles west of Richmond and about 3 miles below the Earth’s surface, which is considered shallow in geological measurements.

The quake’s center was about 104 miles south of the District, but residents in Prince George’s County, the District and Northern Virginia said they felt tremors.

“I felt the floor moving under my feet,” said Audrey Epperson, who was on the second floor of an office building at 14th and Otis streets NW. “I just kind of stopped what I was doing as I was talking, and I said to my friend, ‘The building is shaking. The building is moving.’

“And when I looked at the computer, I knew I wasn’t imagining it. It was moving. It’s on a very heavy wood desk and a flat-faced screen, and it’s moving,” said Ms. Epperson, who has lived in the District for 21 years.

A D.C. government spokesman said the quake shook the Wilson Building, but the city never considered going into emergency operations.

Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department, said that the department had received calls confirming that it was a earthquake, but that there were no calls reporting damage.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, said there were “a few cases where picture frames fell” in Bethesda, Gaithersburg and Olney, but “no injuries, no power outages and no cracks in the road” had been reported.

U.S. Geological Survey officials said the District never has experienced a direct hit from an earthquake, but tremors along the East Coast are not uncommon. Florida and North Dakota have had the fewest earthquakes; Alaska and California have experienced the most.

Virginia’s largest earthquake struck May 31, 1897, and was centered in Giles County. Shock waves from that quake were felt as far south as Georgia, as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Indiana.

The temblor yesterday was less intense but still generated a lot of anxiety among residents who this year have experienced a major snowstorm that collapsed several buildings, a major thunderstorm and a hurricane that knocked out power for a week or more.

Mike Town, a 31-year-old relaxing in Richmond’s Penny Lane Pub last night, said the tremor “felt like I expected an earthquake to feel.”

“The floor moved, the whole building shook, and everyone ran out of the building in curiosity. It was strange,” said Mr. Town, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Capitol State Police officers in the state’s General Assembly building said they received at least 50 calls immediately after the temblor from workers wondering what had happened.

“I’m just kind of shocked. The worst thing we have had here was the hurricane,” said Chesterfield resident Elton Stinson, 39, who was using the sauna at the YMCA on Franklin Street.

An earthquake occurs when two land masses slip against each other along a fracture, or fault. Quakes can occur as deep as 500 miles beneath the surface.

mRobert Redding and Jon Ward in Washington contributed to this report.

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