In the World Now @en

The 2011 Virginia Earthquake

31Oct 2011 Nicholas Ballen
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Nick Ballen (WashingtonDC,USA)

Former CIR, International Affairs Division,NagasakiPrefectural Government (8/09-8/11)




 Hello! I am Nick Ballen fromWashingtonDCinAmerica. I worked as a Coordinator for International Relations, or CIR, at the International Affairs Division of the Nagasaki Prefectural Government for two years until August of this year, after which I returned home to DC. I am currently applying to law school.



 My topic for today is the 2011VirginiaEarthquake. You may have heard about it already, but in August this year there was an earthquake in my hometown and current residence,WashingtonDC. I decided to talk about the quake and its effects because earthquakes are extremely rare in this region. The Virginia Earthquake occurred onAugust 23, 2011at1:51 PMlocal time, with a magnitude of 5.8. The epicenter was inLuisaCounty, 38 miles (61 km) northwest ofRichmond, the capital ofVirginia. The epicenter was 5 miles (8 km) south-southwest of the town ofMineral, the closest town to the epicenter, which was about 50 miles (80 km) fromWashingtonDC. Earthquakes of this intensity are quite rare in this region. In fact, an earthquake of the same magnitude had not occurred east of theRocky Mountainsfor 114 years, since 1897.




Map of the Earthquake issued by the US Geological Survey (



 The Virginia Earthquake was an intraplate earthquake, and therefore differed in a number of ways from the interplate earthquakes that usually occur inJapanor on the west coast of the North American Continent. The rock below the east coast is older than the rock on the west coast, so earthquakes in the east are usually felt over a larger area, even if the strength of the initial quake is relatively weak. In contrast, in a typical west coast earthquake, the power of the quake is concentrated in the epicenter and quake is not felt over such a wide area. The Virginia Earthquake was also a shallow quake, a fact that increased the area over which it was felt. Indeed, the Virginia Earthquake reached as far north as Quebec City, Quebec, as far east as Fredericton, New Brunswick, as far south as Atlanta, Georgia and as far west as Illinois. One may therefore say that this quake was felt over quite a wide area.



 Luckily there were no deaths as a result of the quake, though there were numerous reports of lesser injuries. As there had not been an earthquake in the region for over 100 years, regular disaster preparedness training, the norm inJapan, is not at all common here. In addition, there were many people who had never before experienced an earthquake. As such, in downtown DC and other areas many panicked at first and were quite surprised by the quake. There are also no real anti-earthquake building regulations or other widely-known safety measures in place for earthquakes. So, as a result, a quake whose magnitude would not be the cause of so much alarm in Japan actually engendered a great deal of property damage here on the east coast. For example, there was structural damage to some of the famous monuments in downtownWashington.



Evacuations at the Pentagon (  




 Next I would like to discuss my own experience with the quake. I am very used to earthquakes because I lived inJapan. As such, when the earthquake occurred and ground shook and made the usual rumbling noise, I was really not so surprised. Rather, I thought, “Oh, it’s an earthquake. That’s rare, but I can tell this one isn’t so bad…” I simply did what I had been trained to do in case of a quake. After that, I saw on the news reports of the quake which struck me as a bit sensationalist, and heard from other Americans, whose reactions struck me as over-exaggerated and dramatic. To be honest I thought these reactions were silly and I was somewhat embarrassed by how the people here were responding to the quake. After listening to what my friends and family had to say, however, I rethought my reaction. I realized that, from the perspective of someone who had never experienced an earthquake, this quake must have been quite scary. Further, earthquakes are indeed extremely rare in this region, so it should be no surprise that the media would cover the quake excessively.



 That is all for my report from the ground on the recent Virginia Earthquake. I am looking forward to contributing to this column again! All the best!