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Ten Years Ago: Earthquake Shakes Arlington and the D.C. Area

Ten years ago today, at 1:51 p.m. a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Virginia and the D.C. region, an unexpected jolt that sent residents and workers fleeing into the streets.

Damage from the earthquake locally was scattered and relatively minor. Loose items fell from store shelves. Some brick structures like chimneys were damaged. Walls cracked at historic Arlington House. The foundation at Arlington Fire Station No. 2 was damaged. The Thomas Jefferson Theater had to be closed for repairs. There were also reports of broken glass.

And that’s not to mention what happened across the Potomac River.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, cell phone service was overloaded by people calling loved ones. Numerous gas leaks were reported and hundreds of Dominion customers in Arlington lost power. Office buildings closed for damage assessments, and highways were jammed with workers heading home early. In Courthouse, court employees, police and other county workers gathered in the middle of the street.

ARLnow’s initial article on the quake published two minutes after it started, but due to a crush of web traffic our server crashed and remained only periodically reachable for at least an hour.

“I remember sitting in my office, in my then-apartment along Columbia Pike, and feeling the shaking. My initial thought was that the somewhat creaky building was giving way,” recalls ARLnow editor Scott Brodbeck. “When I realized it was an earthquake, and saw our Twitter mentions blow up with people wondering what was happening, I worked to get something up on the site as soon as possible. It took about three minutes after that for our server to start crashing.”

Luckily, no significant injuries were reported, and the day’s Democratic primary went off without a hitch.

Below is an excerpt from ARLnow’s coverage on Aug. 23, 2011.

“Be advised, we just suffered an earthquake,” Arlington County 911 dispatch said over police and fire radio channels, just after the quake hit at 1:51 p.m. So far, no major damage or significant injuries have been reported in Arlington.

Multiple reports of building evacuations throughout the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor led police to caution about pedestrians in the roadway. Vornado has made the decision to close all its building in Arlington, including the county’s office building at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, according to Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius. The building is staying open for election workers.

Numerous gas leaks are being reported. More than 250 Dominion customers in Arlington are without power as of 5:00 p.m.

The Arlington Emergency Operations Center has been activated, Curtius said. Traffic is heavy on I-66 and I-395 in Arlington as workers head home for the day.

The county’s 911 center was “flooded with calls” after the earthquake, Curtius said. Most of the calls were anxiety related, and no injuries directly related to the earthquake have been reported. Additional emergency personnel were called in and 911 calls are dying down now, Curtius added.

There are reports of minor damage to parts of old buildings, like brick chimneys, according to Arlington County Police spokeswoman Det. Crystal Nosal. She said the Arlington County courthouse and police department were evacuated while the Fire Marshal checked out gas lines to the building. During the evacuation, many emergency personnel were standing outside the police station on 14th Street with radios in hand.

Firefighters are checking for damage to overpasses. All flights out of Reagan National Airport were suspended while runways are checked for damage, officials said. Flights are now operating, but with delays. As of 2:45 p.m., Terminal A of Reagan National was being evacuated due to an odor of gas. Terminal B and C are still open.

The Pentagon was also evacuated after the quake, according to news reports. NBC News is reporting that several water pipes burst in the building, flooding the floor below.

Arlington Public Library says that books fell off shelves, and multiple residents have told us about small items falling on the ground during the temblor.

According to county election officials, today’s voting will continue as normal, with polls closing at 7:00 p.m. All voting centers are open, but voting has been moved outside at the George Mason University center.

Cell phone service was jammed shortly after the quake as residents called loved ones. Service is back up but spotty, according to various accounts on Twitter.

Below some videos that were taken in Arlington during and after the earthquake.

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