Earthquake shakes region; buildings evacuated


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An earthquake centered in Virginia was felt in the Pittsburgh region just before 2 p.m. today, leading to evacuations here and around the East Coast.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the magnitude 5.8 quake occurred 3.7 miles underground at 1:51 p.m. near Richmond. It was felt shortly afterward in Pittsburgh.

The tremor prompted a series of evacuations, some mandatory and some voluntary.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh's students were evacuated and were gathered outside the building on the Boulevard of the Allies.

Point Park University also was being evacuated.

Workers from the glass-encased PPG headquarters were gathering in the outdoor plaza.

The Allegheny County 911 center was getting swamped with calls but said it had no early reports of earthquake damage.

At the Steelers offices on the South Side, many of the front-office employees felt the two-story building shake, thinking it might have been a passing train. Some left the building and stood outside in the parking lot. At the time, the players were practicing outside in the back of the building.

Most players found out about the earthquake as they came off the field.

"There was an earthquake?" asked Ramon Foster, an offensive lineman.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who was born in California and played football at Southern Cal, said he's been through a few earthquakes on the West Coast but did not feel this one.

"I'm pretty accustomed to these types of things," Polamalu said. "If it would snow in California, it would be a pretty big deal, you know!"

Anita Bandy was inside her home on California Avenue in Brighton Heights talking on the phone when "all the sudden the whole building was shaking. I come to find out the bricks were falling from the chimneys."

She told her friend, "I think we've had an earthquake," and rushed outside. She saw neighbors running, some of them pointing toward the sky. The old apartment house where she lives was shedding bricks.

Firefighters arrived after her 911 call and confirmed her quake suspicions.

"It was the strangest thing," Ms. Bandy said. "It was maybe 30 seconds but it seemed like forever."

Anita Groupp, who lives in the Sunset Hills neighborhood of Mt. Lebanon, said she was watching television when she felt the quake.

"I was sitting on my couch and it jumped three times," she said. "Then the chandelier and the hanging plants started swinging."

Kevin Westover was sitting at his desk at the Steel Business Briefing in the South Side Works when he felt a rocking akin to a coworker kicking a desk or bouncing in his seat.

"You could feel the building sway and when you tried to focus on the monitor you could actually see it move."

He and his coworkers jumped from their seats and headed into the stairwell and out the door.

A fire alarm sounded and scores of people spilled from the sprawling office complex and shopping center into the street, where they texted loved ones and pressed their phones to their ears.

Mr. Westover said the shaking lasted about 30 to 40 seconds. Workers safely returned to their posts not long after leaving the building.

The rumbling was felt by employees on the campus of Carnegie Mellon Unversity. "It felt like my desk was moving, like somebody was pushing it," said Ken Walters, a university spokesman who works in Alumni House on Forbes Avenue. "I thought maybe they were doing some work in the office. Then a couple of colleagues came out and asked, 'You know what's going on with the building?' It was weird."

The switchboard at the University of Pittsburgh received calls from individuals in campus locations including Salk and Bellefield halls and the 42-story Cathedral of Learning, said Loraine Reed, an administrator in telecommunications for Pitt.

Pitt sent out an alert on its phone chain informing people of the quake but saying there was no need for evacuations.

The higher you are in a building, the more you likely you felt the effects, according to William Harbert, chairman of the Department of Geophysics at the University of Pittsburgh.

He's busy analyzing results of the temblor on Pitt's seismograph at the Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park.

"We had people charging down the steps from the fifth floor of the geology building," Mr. Harbert said. "They got shook up pretty well."

U.S. Steel employees, in the tallest building in the region, were not being evacuated, but U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which is in the building, was evacuated.

Duquesne Light reported all of its systems were secure and had no problems from the quake. Pittsburgh International Airport reported no problems.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh immediately dispatched inspectors to dams. Initial reports found no evidence of damage on a visual inspection, but engineers will make a more thorough inspection later, said spokesman Jeff Hawk.

The Three Mile Island nuclear plant in central Pennsylvania reported it was operating normally, and no alarms were triggered at the Beaver Valley power station.

The earthquake set off some fire alarms in buildings at West Virginia University, which were evacuated as a result. But there were no early reports of any damage, said John Bolt, spokesman for the university.

At California University of Pennsylvania, "We definitely could feel it and hear it," said spokeswoman Chris Kindl, who was working in a building adjoining Old Main on the campus when the quake occurred. "Most people went prudently outdoors with their handheld devices so they could check to see what the heck was going on."

"We heard a rumbling that went on for 10 seconds or more."

She said that in a conference call minutes after the quake, representatives from other universities belonging to the State System of Higher Education also reported feeling the quake in their parts of the state.

Tremors could be felt in Harrisburg, where staffers in the Capitol promptly left the building. In the ground-level Capitol annex, several House staffers who were having lunch quickly moved out from under a glass atrium. The tremor there was felt at about 1:55 and lasted about 10 seconds.

Richard Pronesti, a top aide to state Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, said, "There is something about being in a 100-year-old building that's shaking like that that makes you want to get the hell out."

The Capitol workers returned to work around 2:35.

U.S. Capitol legislative offices also were being evacuated, said Richard Carbo, spokesman for Congressman Jason Altmire.

Part of the Pentagon, which experienced rumbling and shaking, was also emptied.

Regions as far north as New Hampshire also reported feeling the tremor.

Post-Gazette reporter Jon Schmitz, visiting family in Springfield, Va., was sitting at the dining room table when the rumbling began.

"For an instant, I thought it was a heavy truck going by outside but the shaking got more violent and intense, and my brother-in-law, Paul Hynes of San Diego, said 'we're having an earthquake.' It lasted for about 30 to 40 seconds and shook the house enough to make the walls creak. . . . However, everyone here, including the seasoned earthquake pros from California, was quite shaken up. No pun intended."

A smaller aftershock was reported at 2:46 p.m.

The most severe seismic event in this area occurred on Sept. 25, 1998 and measured a magnitude of 5.2, with its epicenter in the Greenville-Jamestown area of Western Pennsylvania. It was felt as far away as Illinois, New Jersey and Ontario, Canada, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.


A map showing the earthquake's epicenter.
Green graph indicates vertical movement. Red graph indicators north-south movement. Blue graph indicates east-west movement.
The seismograph recording at Allegheny Observatory showing the earthquake at 1:51 p.m.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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