Earthquake in DC!

Just like my good friend Elvis said, “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on!”

A magnitude 5.9 quake struck Virginia, 36 miles northwest of Richmond and 88 miles southwest of Washington, DC. That puts it about thirty or so miles due west of my family’s home in Manassas. My wife reports that the whole house shook, pictures fell off the walls, and something (probably some tchotchke we have on a shelf) fell over and broke.

The quake occurred at 1:51 PM, and I felt it at about 2:03 PM, so it took about twelve minutes to travel the 88 miles to Washington. I was on the sixth floor of my work building in DC, on Southwest 12th Street, near the Potomac River. I was in a meeting in a conference room when the whole building began swaying. It felt like I was on one of the carnival rides at the Prince William County Fair. The lamps overhead rattled, and everybody ducked under the big conference table. The main undulations went on for a little less than a minute, but the building continued to vibrate and shake for at least another minute. Weirdly, I wasn’t frightened. I cracked jokes under the table.

We all evacuated down the stairwells. I ducked into my office as fast as I could to grab my personal laptop — my most recent chapter of No Direction Home hadn’t been backed up, and I wasn’t about to lose my only copy of my newest novel. The evacuation was s-l-o-w-w-w-w moving down those stairs. My office mates and I walked about two blocks north to a designated gathering spot. We heard that the building across the street, an older building probably built in the 1940s, had suffered damage and would remain evacuated until a structural analysis could be done.

First earthquake I’ve ever experienced. Strangely enough, during the meeting, we were told one of our key participants couldn’t participate, because he was busy down in Miami with hurricane preparations due to the approach of Hurricane Irene. And just before the meeting, I had printed out an article on a brand-new method of post-disaster computer-to-computer communication which doesn’t rely on cell phone networks or the Internet, facilitated by software called LifeNet which is being developed by researchers at the Georgia Tech College of Computing (hat tip to

Hurricanes I’m plenty familiar with. I’ve been through Andrew, Georges, Jorge, and, biggest and baddest of all, Katrina. But sitting atop six stories flopping around on jello? That’s a new one to me. I hope this isn’t a foretaste of things to come around here (God forbid)…

Update (4:57 PM): For the past ten minutes, I’ve been watching a helicopter slowly circle the tip of the Washington Monument. Can’t tell if it is a news helicopter or some sort of official aircraft. Staying very close to the Monument. Very ominous…

Update #2: Apparently no damage to the Washington Monument. However, in the alternate universe portrayed in my recent novel Ghostlands, a major earthquake hits New Shining Capitol (that world’s Washington, DC) and their version of the Washington Monument does fall down.

Update #3: That tchotchke that broke in the house? Turns out it was my statue of Comeback ’68 Concert Elvis. Maybe it was Jerry Lee Lewis striking out at his rival (since I got my quote wrong at the start of this post)…?

Update #4: Well, it looks like there was at least a little damage to the Washington Monument. Engineers will be checking its extent.


  1. Maury says:

    Just a moment ago I was wondering if you’d blog about this, and voilla! You have a hell of a good knack for this, Andy! I’m glad that all is well and all are safe, thank God. Funny what you said about grabbing your laptop — I did the same with my latest (written in longhand) short story. Get the notebook! THAT was my priority!

    • Andrew says:

      After being separated from my laptops and the digital versions of all my novels for two months following Katrina, there was no way I was going to leave my writing laptop in the office.

  2. Maury says:

    You, sir, know Elvis better than anyone I know, however I believe it was Jerry Lee Louis who sang about aforementioned shaking going on.

  3. Dara Fox says:

    I thought I was going mad. The shaking felt like an earthquake and not blasting and weapons testing from Quantico, which also shakes our house. I was so uncertain as to my sanity that I called the non-emergency police number to ask if it really was an earthquake or if I was just off my rocker. It took me about 12 minutes to get through to the police. Fortunately, some art supplies fell over, a small statue of Elvis broke, a picture frame broke when the picture fell off the wall, and some knickknacks fell over, but other than that, nothing happened. The kids and I are fine.

  4. Nathan Krawitz says:

    I was in Japan in the late 90’s and had an interesting 17 days. First, there was record rain. Then two typhoons threatened. As my departure day approached, one of the typhoons stalled southwest of me, and the rain kept coming. One of the subway trains derailed due to the rain. Now it’s departure day. I’m just waiting on the time to walk to the lodging office for the bus to Narita. But wait! It’s shaking! I jump into the nearest door jamb. Huh. A temporary wall. Not good. So I turn on the news. Not like I can understand it, but they had lots of numbers and colors, and I can read a map. This quake was centered in Tokyo Bay and was around 5.2. Where I was, the seismometers said it was around 4.5 local feeling.

    I made it to the airport on time and back to the United States without further incident.

    Living near Portland, Oregon, I’ve felt a few earthquakes. Two in particular were between 80 and 115 miles from me, yet still were strong enough to feel. One of them, I got under a workbench and was told by my team leader that I was probably the only person who did the right thing.

    Funny thing is the first earthquake I felt I might have ignored. It was November 25th, 1988 and I was in a diner in Vermont. This one was centered in Quebec, but I didn’t know. The floor was so springy, that every time someone walked behind me, the floor shook. Any earthquake would likely have been ignored. Kind of ruined my thrill.

  5. Lori says:

    Glad it was mostly shaking and just a limited amount of rattling and rolling.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, Lori. I hope it remains a quiet hurricane season for those of you down on the Gulf Coast.

  6. Ric Mellin says:

    I hope that you guys made it through the storm without any major problems. I am watching what’s going on now in New York City. People are walking around Time Square already and the electricity is on (10:15AM Sunday). That’s great news since mom and dad are on the 28th floor of the hotel!

    • Andrew says:

      Everything’s fine here, Ric. We received only minimal rain and the winds weren’t very heavy, either. We must’ve been right at the western edge of the bands. I’ll check with Charlie and Maury to see what things are like in their areas before we make up our minds to go ahead with our trip to Long Island, but it is looking promising, based on news reports. Looks like the NYC metro area pretty much dodged the bullet.

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