Earthquake shakes Western Tidewater

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The shaking felt in Western Tidewater at 1:50 p.m. Tuesday was the result of a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that hit 27 miles east of Charlottesville, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Believed to be the largest-ever in Virginia, the quake lasted 45 seconds and hit areas from North Carolina to Ottawa, Canada. The epicenter was 39 miles northwest of Richmond and 83 miles from Washington, D.C. No injuries or damages were reported.

“The only thing I heard was there were a couple of alarm calls,” said Sgt. Wanda Covington with the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office. “That doesn’t surprise me. We can get a thunderstorm and (alarms go off).”

From her office in Courtland, Covington said the tremor was a real shock.

“I couldn’t ever recall (something like that) in my life,” she said. “We thought it was the train coming down Main Street.”

The phones lit up at the emergency-calling center in Franklin, said Leslie Pearce, secretary for emergency services.

“Everybody was calling in to find out what happened,” Pearce said. “First, we had to find out exactly what happened.”

Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson said the courthouse was evacuated.

“Everybody is pretty much saying the same thing,” Robertson said. “The buildings shook, things kind of moved around the room or on the walls.”

Albert Capers, 70, of Sedley was sitting on the edge of his bed when he experienced the earthquake.

“It was very much like I felt one time (during an earthquake) in San Francisco,” Capers said. “I had a glass on my night stand and the liquid moved. I also looked at the door to my bathroom and it was swaying.”

Former Franklin resident Kim Knight, who lives in Stanton and works as a counselor for the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, was in a meeting when the earthquake hit.

“It was like a tornado, it sounded like a train coming through,” the 46-year-old said. “My heart was just beating fast. Everyone stood up and ran out the door.”

At Billy Phillips’ downtown Franklin store, two chandeliers swung back and forth for a distance of about two feet.

“I was waiting on a customer and thought the train had wrecked,” Phillips said.

Cassandra Kigler, 49, of Courtland was getting ready to make lunch when she felt the earthquake.

“I thought the Lord was coming,” Kigler said. “I was on the phone and kept looking for a plane.”

Matthew Jones, 17, of Scottswood was driving his truck from Hunterdale to Franklin when he experienced what he thought was a problem with the steering.

“Then I saw the stop lights move,” Jones said. “I didn’t know what happened.”

Then he got a text message on his cell phone and learned it was an earthquake.

Since at least 1774, people in central Virginia have felt small earthquakes and suffered damage from infrequent larger ones, according to the Geological Survey. The largest damaging earthquake (magnitude 4.8) in the seismic zone occurred in 1875. Smaller earthquakes that cause little or no damage are felt each year or two.