Quake! Virginia hit by 5.8 magnitude temblor

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake with an epicenter near Mineral in Louisa County was reported on Tuesday, causing tremors as far away as New York, Ohio, and the Carolinas.

According to Dr. Alton Dooley, associate curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, this was one of the largest earthquakes in Virginia’s recorded history, although seismic events in the area are not uncommon.

According to Dooley, the epicenter of this earthquake occurred in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone, an area active in seismic activity.

“The Central Virginia Seismic Zone is located throughout Virginia’s Piedmont region,” Dooley said.  “Most of the faults were originally formed either during continental collisions that formed the Appalachian Mountains around 300 million years ago, or during the rifting that formed the Atlantic Ocean starting around 220 million years ago. While those events are in the distant past, the faults formed during those events are still present and rocks still occasionally move along those faults, causing earthquakes.”

At 5.8 in magnitude, today’s earthquake was one of the largest in Virginia’s recorded history, with the previously largest earthquake in Virginia’s history taking place in 1897 in Giles County and also measuring 5.8 in magnitude.

“This earthquake was more than 10 times stronger than the 2003 earthquake that was felt by many residents of Martinsville, Virginia,” Dooley said.  “But even though this was a large earthquake for Virginia, it was small compared to earthquakes that occur in more seismically active zones. For example, the recent earthquake of the coast of Japan that caused extensive damage and a tsunami was more than 1000 times more powerful than today’s earthquake.”

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has a variety of educational programs for all ages that highlight Virginia’s diverse natural history, including geological studies.

“Today’s earthquake in Virginia presents a unique educational opportunity,” said Christy Deatherage, VMNH museum education coordinator.  “As the natural history museum for the entire Commonwealth, the museum is a valuable resource for individuals throughout Virginia and beyond to learn about this and other natural events.”

VDOT assessing potential damage

The Virginia Department of Transportation today dispatched inspection teams to bridges and tunnels across the state soon after the 5.9 magnitude earthquake to assess any potential damage. Currently, no damage has been confirmed to bridges, tunnels or roads. Inspections are expected to continue for 24 hours.

All four tunnels in the Hampton Roads area (Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, Downtown Tunnel and Midtown Tunnel), as well as Virginia’s two mountain tunnels on Interstate 77 have been inspected with no sign of damage.

VDOT’s Culpeper and Fredericksburg Districts did report some minor damage to buildings.

VDOT’s bridges are designed in accordance with American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) standards, including earthquake loads for this region of the country. The agency conducts between 11,000 and 12,000 bridge inspection each year. VDOT has more than 100 staff dedicated to bridge inspections.

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