Area shaken by Virginia earthquake

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BRATTLEBORO -- The ground shook across Windham County just before 2 p.m. Tuesday as a strong earthquake centered near Richmond, Va., sent waves up and down the East Coast.

The U.S Geological Survey said a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, about a half mile deep, hit about 40 miles northwest of Richmond.

Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn said the station received numerous calls in the early afternoon, though there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Wrinn said he felt the shaking in the station and had planned to continue monitoring activities across town throughout the afternoon.

"The building was shaking pretty good down here," Wrinn said. "Right now we’re trying to find out more."

At the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Entergy Spokesman Larry Smith said the plant’s seismic monitor did not record any activity and Smith said the plant never shut down and continued to operate.

"There is no declaration of an unusual event," Smith said. "The plant continues to operate normally."

But an employee in the Vernon Town Hall, which is just up the road form the nuclear power plant, said some people in the building felt the shake.

A spokeswoman at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said she would investigate why the power plant’s seismic monitor showed no activity and yet employees at the town hall, about one-and-a-half miles from the reactor building, felt the shaking.

Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag said some Town Hall employees evacuated, and workers left the nearby State Office Building as well.

Sondag met with Steve Barrett, co-director of the town’s Emergency Operations Center, and the pair decided not to activate the EOC.

"We talked with fire, dispatch and the police, and there were no reports of fires or damage," Sondag said. "We got a lot of calls from people who said ‘What was that?’ but it was over so fast. We will remain vigilant and hope the citizens will as well."

Vermont Emergency Management also received numerous calls, though Spokesman Mark Bosma said there were no immediate reports of damage or problems, and residents were asked not to call 911 unless there was an emergency.

On the Connecticut River, several TransCanada employees felt the tremor and the company inspected areas around the dams.

TransCanada owns the dams and hydro stations on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers.

TransCanada FERC License Manager John Ragonese said the company is only required to conduct embankment inspections following an earthquake that registers more than 3.0 and is located within 30 miles of a regulated dam.

He said Tuesday’s quake hit approximately 700 miles from the hydro facilities and registered far below 3.0 on the companies equipment.

"We received an inquiry from FERC in light of the extent of reported shakes as far north as New England and due to the severity of the quake at the epicenter," Ragonese said. "We are pleased to report that all of the dams on both rivers were inspected and all checked out okay with no issues found."

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Larry Becker, a geologist with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in Waterbury, said it will likely be another day or two before he receives an official report on seismic event, though Becker said there were reports from throughout Vermont about the earthquake.

"I felt it," said Becker. "We’re going to have wait for the report to see what really happened."

The Virginia quake was felt across New England.

In Rhode Island, the Statehouse was evacuated and an emergency operations center was opened on a limited basis.

And in Boston numerous high rise buildings were evacuated.

On the Reformer Facebook page, residents from Brattleboro, Bellows Falls and Keene, N.H., all said they felt the earthquake.

Luke Q. Stafford said he felt it on the top floor of the Hooker Dunham Building, and Allyson Wendt said it was felt strongly at 95 Main St.

Staff at the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center were working on the new exhibit, "Glass and all its Sense," when the quake hit, but there were no reports of damage.

At Vermont Artisan Designs, which is filled with glass and ceramic crafts, nothing fell on the floor. Sales Associate Dale Ouimette said that though she didn’t feel the earthquake, while she was speaking with the Reformer she could feel a log truck as it rumbled by on Main Street.

On Chapin Street, in Brattleboro, Brian Coumbes and Megan Ferullo were watching television when the house began to shake and a report came on about the Virginia earthquake.

"I thought she was shaking the couch and she thought I was doing it," said Coumbes. "We were watching the chimney rocking. We got dressed and we were ready to go."

Meanwhile, at the offices of the Reformer, the walls swayed and computer screens shook.

After some frantic moments of trying to reach her daughter Kristine Smith in the Richmond, Va., area, newsroom clerk Pat Smith was able to get through to find Kristine wondering what the commotion was all about.

Smith’s daughter told her mom she had been driving and had not felt a thing.

Smith had a problem connecting with Kristine because phone lines were tied up in Virginia due to so many people like her trying to call the area to check on their family and friends.

On entering a grocery store soon after the quake, Kristine told her mother she found people picking up boxes of cereal and other light items off the floor. When she arrived home, items on shelves and the coffee table were on the edge about to fall and the cats would not come out from under the bed.

The Associated Press and Reformer Staffer Pat Smith contributed to this report.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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