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What we’ve learned since the 2011 Virginia earthquake


(WDBJ) – Ten years ago this week, probably the most widespread earthquake in American history occurred here in Virginia.

On August 23, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the small town of Mineral, causing damage estimated at $200-300 million in the United States.

This included damage to the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument in D.C., along with hundreds of other residential properties.

Dr. Martin Chapman, director of the Virginia Tech Seismic Observatory, has been studying the 2011 earthquake extensively, along with other powerful earthquakes like it.

August 23, 2011 (USGS)

“It was a very violent earthquake for its size,” said Dr. Chapman. “It had a lot of displacement. In other words, the associated stress drop, the amount of stress energy released was too high for a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.”

Since the Louisa County earthquake, scientists have been trying to better understand the Central Virginia seismic zone—one of a number of Virginia’s ancient fault lines. Knowing the likelihood of a major earthquake occurring again is critical to scientists.

“I hope that many citizens of Central Virginia are now aware of the fact that earthquakes like this are not uncommon,” said Dr. Chapman. “An earthquake of this magnitude will occur somewhere in Virginia or in the mid-Atlantic region on average once every four to five hundred years.”

“An earthquake of this magnitude will occur somewhere in Virginia or in the mid-Atlantic region on average once every four to five hundred years.”

Earthquakes have been reported along the east coast since colonial days. In fact, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake occurred in 1886 in Charleston, South Carolina, killing more than 100 people. Provide a cautionary tale for us.

While earthquakes in our region occur less frequently than other natural hazards such as severe weather or floods, being prepared for anything is the best course of action.

Dr. Chapman says to stay inside any building you are in and sit under a desk or sturdy table. He says falling debris is a big danger outside buildings. In October, Virginia is scheduled to participate in the Great Southeast ShakeOut earthquake drill.

The main objective of the event is to prepare the Southeast for major earthquakes. If you would like more information, visit here.

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