Magnitude 5.8 Earthquake In Va. Was 1 Year Ago, August 23, 2011; Shaking Felt In Louisa County, Washington, DC, Maryland and Canada

5:39 PM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- One year ago today, on August 23, 2011, East Coast residents experienced a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that caused major damage in Central Virginia and also caused damage to D.C. landmarks such as the Washington National Cathedral and the Washington Monument. The North Anna nuclear power station was also temporarily shut down.

In fact, the effects of the earthquake have been long-lasting for some: aftershocks from the earthquake continued in Virginia for months and some areas are still recovering from the damage left behind. According to USGS, more than 450 aftershocks have been recorded since the earthquake.

VIEW: Aftershock Map

WATCH: Time Lapse Video Of Aftershock Sequence

JULY 31, 2012: Magnitude 2.4 Earthquake Strikes Louisa County

The USGS says "tens of millions of people in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada" or about a third of the nation felt the earthquake, making it one of the largest earthquakes in this region in the last century

READ: Quake Shock Waves Forced Evacuation in New Haven

Officials say the largest shock in the same seismic region happened in 1875.


According to USGS, the earthquake's epicenter was located approximately 5 miles from Mineral, Va. (about 7 miles from Louisa, Va. and 84 miles from Washington, DC). The earthquake began at 1:51:04 p.m.

VIDEO: What Causes An Earthquake?

VIDEO COMPILATION: Earth Coast Earthquake

Many people in the Washington, D.C. area had not experienced an earthquake in the area and many people were confused, or did not know what to do. Even some people who moved to the D.C. metro area from the West Coast admitted to WUSA 9 later that day that they initially did not believe an earthquake was happening. 

VIDEO: East Coast vs. West Coast Earthquakes

Some people evacuated their office buildings and homes once they felt the ground start to shake.

PHOTOSOffice Buildings Evacuate Due to Earthquake 

VIDEO: Evacuated Office Employees React To Earthquake


Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology shared pictures of their seismograph and online Seismic Monitor after the East Coast earthquake. The nearest sensor was in Albuquerque, but their equipment shown in the photos was located in D.C.

PHOTOSClosest Seismic Station To Earthquake Epicenter

SEISMIC FORESIGHT: Zoo Animals Sense Earthquake


Many people may remember photos and video of damage in Central Virginia, including Culpeper and Louisa County. Dozens of WUSA viewers shared their photos of broken glass, fallen bricks, cracks in walls and more. 

PHOTOS: Earthquake Damage In Virginia, Maryland and D.C.

READ: Schools And Businesses Damaged In Mineral, Va.

Schools, businesses and homes in Louisa County, which is southwest of Mineral, suffered particularly heavy damage.

PHOTOS: Damage To A House In Louisa County, Va. - courtesy of USGS

The Town of Culpeper is 36.4 miles from Mineral and health department officials confirmed two minor injuries as a result of the earthquake. The town and county also experienced a minor aftershock. 

A state of emergency was declared in Culpeper County, and all town offices were shut down. Public schools in Culpeper were closed the next day while inspectors checked for any structural damage. 

VIDEO: Culpeper Hit By Earthquake, Closings and Delays

VIDEO: Earthquake Damage In Culpeper, Va.

Three buildings were condemned in the Town of Culpeper. The 150-year-old Ritz High Hat Levy building crumbled and had to be taken down completely. 

The Culpeper Adult Detention Center in downtown Culpeper was evacuated due to perceived structural damage to the building, and 80 inmates were relocated to other correctional facilities. 

"Even our train depot, the Amtrak station [in Culpeper] suffered a little bit of damage with the chimneys. They're going to have to come down," said town spokesperson Wally Bunker.

As a precaution, power was cut to 80 businesses and 20 homes in Culpeper. Roads in downtown Culpeper were also closed, including Main Street. Main Street wouldn't reopen until days later.

SEPTEMBER 2 - Culpeper's Main Street Opens 10 Days After Earthquake

THE DAY AFTER: Culpeper Spokesman Talks About Earthquake Damage Assessments

The North Anna nuclear power station, located about 12 miles from the epicenter, was shut down. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission team spent three weeks at the plant after the earthquake. Dominion Virginia Power officials said two reactors shut down during the quake but  they hadn't found significant damage.

Even the 200-year-old house in Arlington that housed Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee and his family before the Civil War, the Arlington House, suffered minor damage.

ARLINGTON: Robert E. Lee's Former Home Damaged In August Quake

The earthquake also had affected Virginia's primary elections, forcing voters outdoors in dozens of precincts.

EARTHQUAKE VIDEO: Vienna, Va. Police Station 


All public schools in D.C. were evacuated on August 23, 2011. Some schools had minor damage and two students had minor injuries. The next day, 13 D.C. schools were red flagged during inspections.

The quake also forced evacuations of parts of the Capitol, White House and Pentagon as well as monuments and memorials on the National Mall.

The National Park Service closed all monuments and memorials on the National Mall as a precaution until officials could evaluate the structures to determine structural integrity and to ensure visitor safety.

WUSA 9 anchor Derek McGinty was standing outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial when he said, "The stones underneath our feet began to move." He told us people were asking, "Did you feel that, did you feel that?" 

VIDEO: Inside the Washington Monument During The Earthquake 

WATCH: CNN reporter feels earthquake at Capitol Hill 

VIDEO: WUSA 9 Garage During Earthquake

The Washington Monument showed numerous large cracks after the earthquake. The day after the earthquake, National Park Service spokesperson Bill Line shared that a crack in the Washington Monument was four feet long and as wide as an inch in some parts. More cracks were also found at the top of the monument.  

PHOTOS: Washington Monument Cracks (courtesy National Park Service)

A structural engineering firm used a team to gather data and assess the damage. Many people will remember the photos of climbers from the the Difficult Access Team rappeling down the monument.

STORY: Engineer From Fairfax Inspects Washington Monument

In October, one of the climbers was blown by a gust of wind about 30 feet off the monument's face but wasn't injured.

Officials said that once the assessment was completed, a report would detail the damage and offer recommendations for repair.

Then, the Park Service would pick one of the options for repair. Bill Line said that the monument would open to the public only when repairs were approved by the firm. 

In November, climbers temporarily filled the cracks with a material similar to a swimming pool noodle that cost $240,000.

A report released in December by an engineering firm showed that the monument's cracking and chipped stones made it vulnerable to rain, and suggested that standing water could collect on the upper floors during storms. The engineering firm 's employees rappeled down the sides of the monument in September to inspect the damage. A federal spending bill allocated $7.5 million to fix the monument and directed the National Park Service to raise the same amount through private donations.

Almost a year after the earthquake, National Geodetic Survey surveyors found that the Washington Monument did not sink further into the ground due to the earthquake. The lead surveyor said the results of their inspections surprised him and credited "the engineers who shored up its foundation in the 1880s." The monument was built on ground that used to be underwater.

The monument likely will be closed for repairs until 2014.

Approximately 200 people were inside the Washington National Cathedral during the earthquake. The National Cathedral said cracks had appeared in the flying buttresses around the apse at one end. "Everyone here is safe," the cathedral said on its official Twitter feed. "Please pray for the Cathedral as there has been some damage."

VIDEO: National Cathedral Rocked By Earthquake

In fact, the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral sustained significant damage and three of the four pinnacle peaks known as "finials" were damaged. The falling debris of large pieces of stone crumbled down the side of the building.

Stone masons and engineers were called to assess the damage and check the structure for safety. The cathedral stayed closed and taped off throughout the night.

OCTOBER: Inspection Engineers Rappel Down National Cathedral

The next day, officials estimated that there were millions of dollars in damage and without insurance, National Cathedral officials struggled to figure out how to pay for repairs. WUSA 9 was told that all the repairs could take years to complete, and the cost of repairs kept increasing over time.

February 2012: National Cathedral Still Needs $18 Million For Repairs

DC's mayor would later seek FEMA funds for the National Cathedral.


Southern Maryland experienced what USGS describes as "light to moderate" damage.

VIDEO: Rockville Residents React To Earthquake

Prince George's County opened its Emergency Operations Center

VIDEO: Earthquake Reaction at Prince George's Co., Md. Police Headquarters

The county's public schools were closed the next day. Officials said 37 schools sustained earthquake-related damage.

The county courthouse in Upper Marlboro had a crack in the wall, and the regional processing center in Hyattsville had water damage.

Two buildings in the county were also condemned in the Hillcrest Heights section of Temple Hills. Prince George's County Emergency Management opened a community center for displaced residents at the Hillcrest Heights Community Center.

VIDEO: Apartment Building In Temple Hills Closed

We were told that that some 500 residents were evacuated after the earthquake but some of them might be able to return home the next evening. Engineers and contractors looked for structural damage as crews put up fencing and removed loose brick pieces on the roof. Gary Cunningham with the Department of Environmental Resources said crews would have to remove part of the wall to determine the extent of the damage.

VIDEOFord Dealership In Waldorf, Md. Earthquake 

In Frederick County, school officials told staff from 8 public schools to report to alternate schools the next day.

The U.S. Naval Academy reported some minor damage but none of it affected students' routines, though during the earthquake the academy temporarily evacuated buildings. Damage included superficial cracks in the exterior of 8th wing of Bancroft Hall, the midshipmen's dormitory. MacDonough Hall had large cracks with brick falling from the arch in the weight room and the third floor of the hall was closed for repairs.


Many people will remember the traffic gridlock after the earthquake. If they gave up on driving or taking the bus, they soon found other modes of transportation were hopeless as well. Some people reported that it took them three to four times longer than usual to get to their destinations. 

VIDEO: Gridlock Ensues After Earthquake In Va

Officials said so many people ignored local government instructions to stay put, that the transportation systems were overwhelmed. To make matters worse, cell phone service was completely disrupted after millions of people tried to make calls simultaneously.

BAD TRAFFIC DAY: Earthquake Disrupts Commute For DC Workers 

Metro said all trains were running at reduced speeds and crews were conducting track inspections. Crews would test and inspect 106 miles of track, bridges, aerial structures and tunnels as well as parking decks and other structures before Metro returned to normal operation the following day.

MARC officials announced that all train service was suspended until Amtrak and CSX crews declared the tracks safe. Amtrak said its trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds and crews were inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal. The Maryland Transit Administration would later announce that MARC's Brunswick and Camden Lines would return to full service the next day but that some trains may have delays.

In December, Washington's Union Station started its 10 months of repairs to its ceiling. Officials said workers would begin constructing a scaffolding to reach the top of the 96-foot-high ceiling. The repairs were expected to cost millions.

Ceiling tiles fell at Reagan National Airport and all flights there were put on hold.


In September, a crane placed at the National Cathedral to repair roof damage tipped over. The crane was 350 feet high and fell westward.

A crane operator was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, and four cars belonging to contractors were crushed.

Later, two workers dismantling the collapsed crane were injured, then taken to the hospital.

VIDEO: 2-Ton National Cathedral Portion Safely Removed

In October, the Washington National Cathedral announced it would reopen on Saturday, Nov. 12 and other welcome back events and events would be held that week. On November 13, the cathedral held its first public service since the earthquake.

PHOTOS: National Cathedral Repairs

In December, the head stone mason on the restoration project said repairs could take a decade or more.

Six months after the earthquake stone carvers Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl gave us a peak inside their work repairing the limestone finials, pinnacles and other pieces. We also learned it would take at least five years to complete all the repairs. But in March, it was announced the tower would be open for the first time since the earthquake for one day. Then in April, the gargoyle tours restarted.

The Washington Monument received a Bethesda billionaire's donation of $7.5 million for repairs. At the time of the announcement, National Park Service officials announced that they expected work to take between 10 months to a year after it awarded a contract to repair the monument. Almost a year after the earthquake, WUSA 9 would learn that no repair work was taking place as the government is still in the process of selecting a contractor to do the work.

A few days after the earthquake, Louisa County officials said it could cost up to $60 million to replace a high school and an elementary school that were damaged. Students from Louisa County High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School attended schools in other buildings and classrooms. In October, we looked at Louisa County schools where some teachers and staff spent weeks moving into 37 mobile classrooms on Trevilians Elementary's soccer field. In January 2012, those schools would be close to normalcy. But in February, officials would close the gym at Trevilians Elementary School after cracks were discovered in the walls. They said they believed the cracks were caused by aftershocks.

In September, Louisa County reported at least $80.6 million in damage in the county. In December, $5 million in federal aid would be available to earthquake victims

In September, damage in Culpeper County is estimated at $10 million. Also, some town fees were waived for Culpeper residents and businesses that suffered damage from the earthquake.

In January of this year, more than $25.2 million of aid was approved for Virginia earthquake victims.

On August 13, 2012, the sanctuary of 198-year-old St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Culpeper, Va.  was reopened. The earthquake caused about $500,000 total damage to the church.


Scientists continue to study last year's earthquake. U.S. Geological Survey officials announced in July that scientists planned to map underground faults in Virginia that caused the quake. The data from the survey will allow the agency to refine its estimates of the region's seismic hazard. 

In January, Louisa County officials approved a geotechnical engineering study for the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School property. They said the assessment would include "a preliminary analysis of potential locations for a replacement building, soil borings" and a study of groundwater elevations.

The two Louisa County school students are still in temporary buildings, with costs of repairs estimated at $85 million. Students will take part in an earthquake drill on the 1 year anniversary of the earthquake.

DONATE: The Washington National Cathedral

The National Monument and the Washington National Cathedral continue to recover and rebuild from the earthquake.

We want to know what you remember about the big earthquake one year later. Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.  

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