So that’s what an earthquake feels like

A few minutes before 2 this afternoon, I was walking down the stairs from my office at home to make myself a late lunch when I heard this rattling noise, like that of an overloaded washing machine. For a second I wondered why the washer in the basement could have overloaded and started shaking all by itself when nobody had put any clothes in it today–then the rattling turned into rumbling, which I thought sounded more like a freight train barreling down my street–and then the thought popped into my head: “earthquake.”

I ran back up the stairs to the nearest source of noise, a bookshelf, and grabbed it with my hands to brace it in place while I hoped none of its contents would fall onto anything, least of all me.

In retrospect, that may have not been the smartest move ever. Look, they didn’t teach about this kind of contingency when I was growing up on the East Coast.

A few surreal, deeply alarming moments followed while I felt the entire house jittering and shaking around me and pondered the improbability of an earthquake stronger than a hiccup hitting the Washington area. I have spent a lifetime seeing the ground’s movement measured in geologic time, and I was not prepared for this.

Then things rumbled to a halt.

My computer’s screen took a few minutes to stop shaking afterwards. So did I, even as I typed out an update:

But after all the drama, a magnitude 5.8 quake does not seem to have broken anything at home. I’ve got a dozen or so pictures to straighten, but there are no other signs of damage–no cracked plaster, no new creaks, no doors that have to be shoved to open or close, no quirks with the water, electricity or gas. (Anything else to check for?)

Fortuitously enough, the only thing to fall off a shelf was my dad’s old hard hat.

So now we can all joke about it.

It is funny: For years, I’ve been expecting to experience an earthquake during a business trip to the Bay Area. I never thought I’d be able to cross that item off the bucket list right in my own home.

13 thoughts on “So that’s what an earthquake feels like

  1. Pingback: HAARP + Fracking = Earthquakes « The Crisis Jones Report

  2. How exciting! I would have thought that since I was from Hawaii where earthquakes happen much more frequently than on the “mainland” that I would have identified it as an earthquake much more quickly. But, like you, I went through an insane checklist of other things to consider first. For some reason, it just doesn’t seem to compute that an earthquake can happen in the stodgy old DC area. An earthquake that is enough to rattle my son awake is a thing to love though 🙂

    I love the shot of your father’s hard hat – nice touch!

  3. I was in my office in N. Arlington (specifically Ballston) typing an email when it started. After a few seconds I left my cube to stand in the doorway of the office next door. Years ago while visiting my brother in LA, there was a minor earthquake and that was the advice he gave me back then. After it stopped, we all headed for the stairs (I work on the 9th floor of a 10-floor building) just as the fire alarm went off. We stood around outside for a while, a bunch of people went home, then they said we could go back inside.

    By the time I had walked down those 9 flights of stairs and was outside, there were already posts on twitter about an earthquake from the various news and weather sites that I follow. ( was the first that I saw.) Quite impressive, really. I was reading the posts out loud to my co-workers, who couldn’t figure out where I was getting all the news from.

  4. First quake I ever felt was in Virginia, back in 84(?) I think. Very small one, 2.something. Never felt one on my trips to California. But I did feel several when I lived in Utah, where every town is built on a fault line, because that’s where the creeks run.

    So I knew to stand in a doorway until the shaking was done, then I went back to work.

    Some fire sprinklers in some buildings (not mine) here in Falls Church went off. I just had to straighten some pictures.

    o/t BN has released ver 1.3 of the Nook Color software. Charging the NC now, will upgrade later tonight.

  5. I’m convinced it was scarier for those of us alone at home. We did have a picture fall and shatter, a bunch of things fell off shelves, drawers opened, and the china in our china cabinet fell over. I was terrified!!!

    • I hear you. (One fact I didn’t think to mention in the post: Our home is 91 years old, and I don’t think earthquake resistance was a punch-list item in 1920. But as everything seems to be intact, I have yet another reason to thank the men who built this house.)

      – RP

  6. OK. So no obvious differences between NC 1.2 and 1.3. Apparently it now does magazines better.

    Also, grabbing something heavy, that would hurt if it fell on you, is just about the worst thing you could do in a quake. Grab the baby and dive under a table. But don’t try to keep the bookcase upright. People die that way.

  7. Pingback: Why You Should Get Online In An Earthquake | Discovery

  8. At first…all I could think was *somehow* black walnuts were falling on my house. Then 9-11 jumped into my brain. I remembered the fighters arriving on 9-11 and the sonic boom,, I thought I must have missed the fighters and I was hearing a bomber. Hubby and I ran outside because I thought the house was going to collapse after he yelled “Earthquake” at me. We had some stuff rattle off shelves but only a couple of broken things. An open pitcher of ice tea in the frig made a big puddles from the frig shaking.

  9. I live in Alexandria, VA – was at home with my 8 year old daughter, we were in my bedroom. Just having some chat time, my daughter getting some paper to draw on when the rumbling and shaking started… the bed was shaking so bad I thought it was a truck going by – except the whole house was shaking, and shaking and shaking – that’s when I knew it was an earthquake, but I also thought it might have been a bomb or plane crash somewhere… like when I felt and heard the crash at the Pentagon on 9/11… This time, I grabbed my then crying daughter and ran to the bedroom doorway, then to the front door, and went outside, but no one was out in our neighborhood… we weren’t sure if our 59 year old house was stable, but once the shaking stopped, it seemed safe to go back inside. I did hear some children crying up the street at the day care nearby… my daughter started crying again, I was shaking horribly – scared us to death – never having felt any earthquake of this magnitude EVER. I’ve only felt a minor one once before – but it was quick and short – several years ago. This time was quite different. Scared – that’s an understatement. Terrified, more likely! (terrified by the thought it might have been a bombing of DC… and that our world as we knew it was over…) Guess I was one who was freaked out by the whole thing.
    Seriously – it was the worst feeling… having experienced the absolutely beautiful day of 9/11, and getting that similar buzzy queasy feeling in my body. It was actually more frightening than that day – while the earthquake was happening – feeling like I couldn’t protect my daughter and myself should the house collapse. I was glad when it was over, but the shakiness I felt (and my daughter too) didn’t subside until much later. Once I was able to contact friends and family via phone and Facebook, I was more calm. Glad to know that very few were injured by this event.
    Oh, and I’ve coined a ([possibly) new term – PTES – Post Traumatic Earthquake Syndrome… Which I know I have… typing on my MacBook Pro, sitting on my couch, I still feel wobbles from time to time, and am freaked out by every passing truck. But I’m okay. I am joking about it with friends!

  10. The earthquake was a first for me. I was in LA once when they had a minor quake overnight while I was sound asleep. The following morning, people at the conference were talking of hearing bed springs squeeking in the rooms around them.

    We were in a meeting when the quake hit. I had no idea what was going on as my chair doesn’t usually start to shake like that. I looked outside and it seemed like a typical sunny afternoon. No sounds of an explosion or other major incidents. One of the guys said it looked like the building next to ours was moving and we figured we better get out quickly. Were were on the ground floor. My friends all tried to call their family, but being single and without kids, I was free to get on the Internet. I think I had better luck with the 4G network than they did with the cell phone networks. I went to WTOP, but saw nothing. I remembered that the USGS website had an activity map and quickly did a google search. I had the details (magnitude and location) in seconds. Once I knew what it was, I posted a facebook update. It seemed I wasn’t the only one as within minutes the updates were adding up.

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