Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shaking Things Up

Earthquakes by the dozen happen in California every day.  They’re so frequently that the U.S. Geological Survey has given California its very own place on the USGS website’s Earthquakes section.  A 4.8 on the Richter scale is business as usual for them.  Nothing to see here, folks, move along.  To tourists, it can be alarming.  During a tour of the Universal Studios lot, the tour guide welcomed the visitors to California and noted wryly that the quake everyone just felt wasn’t a special effect.

Here in the Northeast, quakes aren’t common, but they’re not unusual, either.  At least until they start buildings swaying in New York City.  Last year (or was it last winter), a 4.8 quake out in the Atlantic set our fifth floor to undulating.  My co-workers didn’t even notice.  They noticed this quaker, though.

“Guys!  Something’s happening!!” cried one co-worker, who stood up.  And with a cry of, “Oh my God!  I think I’m going to be sick!” quickly sat down again.  Then one of my other co-workers stood up, and realized she was going to be sick.

Sure enough, the floor was rumbling and undulating.  I kept my seat, but I could see out the window.  The building was swaying back and forth.  Our building was made to withstand earthquakes.  Our upper floor was designed to be flexible, rather than rigid.  Which means, any time someone heavy comes by or rolls by with a heavy load, the floor shakes.  You know it’s an earthquake when the floor keeps on shaking.

The building shook so noticeably, we were certain the epicenter was here in New Jersey.  My co-workers were anxious to leave.  I suggested waiting until the shaking stopped.  Once downstairs and outside, beyond the reach of falling bricks (although I eyed the lightpoles in the parking lot warily), people started texting and learned the epicenter was in central Virginia.

For us to feel it here, it had to have been some earthquake!  But seismologists on television tell us it had to do with the terrain.  Between central Virginia and New York City, there’s not much rock to get in the way of a seismic wave; it can just go on and on.  That’s why buildings in the city as well as ours swayed.

Yet some people felt it, while other people nearby did not.  One of my co-workers is married to one of our facilities technicians.  He came up to visit later.  He and his co-worker said they didn’t feel anything, but saw that people were already evacuating.

“Do you think we should pull the fire alarm?” one asked.

“I dunno.”

“Well, people are leaving; something must be wrong.”

“Okay, I’ll pull it.”  And the guy did.

Once they checked the building for damage, we came back in and went back to work.  My older brother, who’s a facilities manager just south of here, felt it and was busy checking his building for damage.  My younger brother didn’t feel it and was disappointed.

“It happened ten minutes to two?  I was just coming home.  How come I didn’t feel it?”

“Well, A., maybe it’s because you’re six foot four and drive an enormous, diesel-powered pick-up truck.”

Mom’s house also sits atop an enormous boulder that the developers were unable to blast away.  We’ve felt quakes in the past, but they were local quakes that would have more of an effect.

A couple of interesting things were going on yesterday, and a couple of interesting buildings were slightly damaged in Washington, D.C. (our co-workers in our office just south of Philadelphia thought the quake was “exciting”, like a wicked roller coaster ride):  the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall was dedicated on Sunday.  Here in New York, DHK was acquitted of rape charges against the hotel maid and Attorney General Eric Holder was just beginning the announcement as the earthquake hit New York.

Wall Street was busy having a party as the stock market was rising.  Vice President Biden was praising China for its one-child policy, a statement from which he backed off, and it was revealed that Maxine Waters not only said that the Tea Parties could go straight to Hell, but that she wanted to be the one to send them there.

A noted seismologist claimed that hundreds of quakes have happened in Virginia, but a look yesterday at a seismic historical map of Virginia – which has since vanished from USGS website – showed that the area has experienced no more than about 50 since the USGS began keeping records.  That’s compared to thousands in California (no surprise there).  Not unheard of, but not very common, either.  A Northeastern city that has known quakes to happen is Boston, where church steeples toppled over during the Colonial era.

No sooner will we “recover” from the earthquake, than newly-minted Hurricane Irene will come storming up the Northeast coastline to give us a piece of her mind.  Lightning storms, earthquakes, and hurricanes.  Strange that of all the buildings in the nation’s capital, only the Washington Monument was damaged enough to be closed, and now a heavy wind and rain is coming close on the heels of the earthquake.

The Washington Monument sits right in front of the White House, although it would be more likely to topple towards the Lincoln Memorial.  The Liberals sure don’t want a toppled-over Washington Monument creating any signs for the Tea Partiers, so they may just strap themselves, en masse, to the monument to keep it from being blown away in the storm.



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