Editor's Desk

After the Quake

What it was like to experience the Washington area's historic earthquake.

By 8.24.11

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One thing I learned yesterday is that there's a big difference between an aftershock and the real thing. The aftershock came out about 8 last night and consisted mainly of the lamp on my work table tingling and vibrating a bit. But nothing else in the room did, unlike six-plus hours earlier when the walls seemed to be being broken into and the ceiling creaked and there was lots of outdoor noise as if from some large-scale excavating or maybe from a jet plane breaking the sound barrier somewhere underground.

By Washington, D.C. area standards, it was an earthquake to rival the end of the world. It was the last thing I would have expected here. And as a native of California, I was stunned at how much more violent yesterday 5.8 quake seemed than, say, 1971's 6.6 San Fernando quake, which shook me wide awake very early one February morning back when I still lived in Santa Barbara.

As it happened, yesterday's quake hit just five minutes before we were to take our son to the Baltimore-Washington Airport. Local news radio filled us in as details became available. The consensus quickly became that this was a day everyone who lived through it would remember for the rest of his or her life. Maybe so, though that might depend on what happens in the interim. One thing is clear. Phone lines quickly went out, both land lines and cell, from simple overuse. Luckily it wasn't because something a lot worse had happened to them. But other than that -- and the inevitable traffic jams that doubled commuting time -- I'm not sure if anything too awful transpired. For all the scare it threw into locals, the quake in Washington was more roar than bite. Happy are those who aren't at the epicenter.

My sister asked me if our animals had given any advance warning. Can't say, because I wasn't paying attention. The doggie might have reacted, but even afterward she appeared mainly preoccupied with the fact that we were preparing to go to the airport without her. The cat on the other hand was totally spooked by the quake. She thought that when we had taken her in last fall she'd found security after a pretty turbulent first year of life. Now she wasn't so sure. When we got home from the airport five hours later, she continued to hide under the bed, her tail permanently puffed up. Later she did reappear, seemingly more relaxed but still very cautious. We should be able to tell today if she'll need counseling.

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.