Earthquake centered in Va. rolls across Pa.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia was felt across Pennsylvania, with people from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh experiencing shaking buildings. At least one bridge was closed after it developed a crack.
Reading police shut down the Penn Street Bridge after spotting a large crack, while emergency workers checked into reports of natural gas odors in the city, the Reading Eagle newspaper reported.
"The courthouse and City Hall were evacuated but there were no collapses or injuries we're aware of," Reading Police spokeswoman Linda Manegold said.
The state Department of Transportation, which maintains the bridge, sent an inspector to take a look at it. "We're not sure the crack was there before or not. That's a very old bridge that routinely gets maintenance done to it," PennDOT spokesman Ron Young told The Associated Press.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Ruth Miller said no injuries had been reported in the aftermath of the quake, which hit around 1:50 p.m. but people were flustered by the incident, often leaving their offices. The quake was felt in cities across the state, including York, State College, Erie and elsewhere.
In downtown Philadelphia, four windows shattered on a lower floor at Independence Blue Cross while a worker on the 30th floor of the 45-story building said her tea spilled. The company sent its 3,000 employees home for the day.
Philadelphia International Airport temporarily grounded departing flights and shut down security checkpoints for incoming passengers while officials inspected the runways and terminals, spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said. No one was evacuated and the airport resumed normal operations about 30 minutes later, she said.
Workers poured out of PPL Corp's 22-story headquarters building in Allentown, the city's tallest.
"I've been here 30 years and I've never felt anything like that. It was visibly shaking, things on my walls were shaking which is a little disconcerting," PPL spokesman Dan McCarthy said.
He said there are no indications of any damage, either to power lines or to the Susquehanna nuclear power plant in northeastern Pennsylvania, but inspectors at the plant were checking to make sure.
Three Mile Island spokesman Ralph DeSantis said the nuclear power plant 10 miles south of Harrisburg never stopped operating during or after the earthquake, and staff there were inspecting it, in keeping with plant procedures for a seismic event, but had reported no damage.
Jennifer Young, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Corp., which operates the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport, said seismic monitoring equipment throughout the plant picked up the vibrations but not enough to activate alarms at the plant.
"Both (reactor) units remain safe and stable and are operating at 100 percent capacity," Young said of the plant located about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, near the Ohio border.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake in Mineral, Va., was about a half-mile deep and shaking was felt as far north as Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and as far south as Georgia.
The quake sent hundreds of people spilling into the street a block from the White House, with other buildings evacuated in North Carolina and tremors felt as far away as New York City.
In Harrisburg, the State Capitol Complex was put under voluntary evacuation but no damage was reported.
"It was wild. ... Everything shook for a good 30 seconds," said state Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, who was in his office at the time.
Liz Zifk, who works in the Pennsylvania Judicial Center on the fourth floor said it "felt like a strong wind hit the glass, and there was a crackling sound on the glass."
A lawyer arguing a case in front of the state Supreme Court said the bench where the justices sit bobbed up and down.
In Pittsburgh, workers left their buildings, too, mystified by the sensation of the earth moving.
"I'm very surprised. It was a new experience for sure, I'll tell you that," Brett Cannaday, 23 said. His co-worker Maria Valdes, 24, offered a different perspective, since she grew up in Mexico City.
"We get these every day," she laughed, referring to Mexico. "But I don't think I have experienced an earthquake in the U.S., and I've been here for 10 years."
Jim Struzzi, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation District 10, which includes the Pittsburgh area, said the agency has no automatic protocols to inspect bridges and tunnels in the event of an earthquake. He said the minor rumbling felt in Pittsburgh wasn't enough to prompt an agency-wide response.
"It doesn't happen here too often," Struzzi said of the quake. "It would have to be something pretty extensive before we would be concerned."
That said, PennDOT officials reviewed the city's major tunnels — Fort Pitt, Liberty and Squirrel Hill — and found nothing of any concern. Fort Pitt and Squirrel Hill carry Interstate 376 through the city's west and east ends, respectively, while the Liberty Tunnel leads to Route 51 and many of the city's southern suburbs.
At the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Lamade Stadium briefly rattled during the consolation game between Rotterdam, Netherlands and Cumberland, R.I. Metal tables bolted to concrete floors on press row shook, as did cables wires strung into the TV broadcast booth above home plate. The game never stopped.
"The table was shaking, the floor," said Carlos Pagan, director of Little League's Latin America region, who was watching the game from press row. "I said (to another official), this is shaking over here, something's moving."
Mandak reported from Pittsburgh. Associated Press reporters Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh; Genaro C. Armas in South Williamsport, Pa.; Marv Levy and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa.; and JoAnn Loviglio, Patrick Walters, Kathy Matheson and Randy Pennell in Philadelphia contributed to this report.