Eastern United States Struck By Earthquake Without Warning

Washington DC - Evacuation

Eastern United States Struck By Earthquake Without Warning – Population May Be at Risk Around Locations of Nuclear Power Plants:

Atlanta in the south to Boston in the north and Chicago in the west were jolted by a medium severity 5.8 magnitude earthquake, epicentered in southern Virginia, in  the morning hours of  Tuesday August 23, 2011.The second historic and the largest earthquake in four decades struck Colorado and New Mexico on Monday, August 22 and Tuesday August 23, 2011. Among the eight earthquakes sending tremors in southern Colorado the largest was magnitude 5.3 according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Credit: AFP Getty

Earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains, although less frequent than in the West, are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast (source: USGS).

The 5.8 earthquake, centered nine miles south of Mineral, Virginia, struck the eastern states on Aug. 23 at 1:51 p.m., according to the USGS. This is about 85 miles southwest of Washington, DC. Some highlights of the seismic impacts on infrastructure and community living follow:

  • Three spires on the Washington National Cathedral (see photo), site of state funerals for several U.S. presidents, broke and fell. (www.canada.com/Reuters)
  • The 555 feet high Washington Monument, appears to be structurally sound but closed for detailed inspection and damage assessment.
  • The earthquake shook the White House, Capitol and Pentagon and was felt up and down the East Coast. The U.S. Capitol suffered some minor damage.
  • According to some eye witnesses, structural damage was observed on some old federal buildings.
  • Cellular service become choked up from millions of people calling their loved ones.
  • Landlines and social media appeared to work.
  • Bridges and subways temporarily closed for safety.
  • East coast homeowners may need to consider earthquake insurance which most did not hear before this seismic tremor.
  • The North Anna nuclear facility, near the quake’s epicenter was successfully shut down but one of its backup generators failed to work (source: USA Today).

Guest post 1 shows and the USGS data indicates that most states in the continental US are prone to medium severity earthquake occurrence. Also, nation’s 104 nuclear power plants are scattered throughout the United States. After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destruction of Japan’s nuclear power plants one will think that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and nuclear industry will start condition monitoring for structural integrity of all nuclear facilities, revisit safety steps to protect American population from such disasters, and provide confidence to  surrounding communities. However, in recent US Senate hearing in early August 2011 there was disagreement among the NRC chair and some NRC members whether 90 days review of such recommendations is adequate period or not. This is just an example of slow pace of agency response after about 6 months of Japan’s nuclear disaster.

Inadequate planning and drills for the communities’ and agencies’ preparation for earthquake disaster reduction are not done on countrywide basis.  The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is mostly charged to assess disaster damage and provide post-disaster funding aid but it is not leading pre-disaster mitigation planning and community outreach.

Dr. Uddin’s note: My recommendation is that the Presidential office should initiate leadership role of interagency coordination for emergency response and mitigation planning related to natural disasters and establish web based volunteer organizations on regional and community levels. Such volunteer tools have been used by NOAA for ecological protection projects.

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