Brooklyn residents rushed out of stores, restaurants and homesin the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, August 23, when tremorsfrom a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia hit New York City,shaking buildings and rattling a city’s collectiveconsciousness.
It was just before 2 p.m. when the shaking began. It lastedaround 15 seconds and was the first time many people had everexperienced an earthquake. For some, it was a confusingexperience.
I thought the shelf was going to fall on me, recalled EmmaGuillaume of Canarsie, who works at John’s Place hair salon onThird Avenue. I said what’s going on?’
Across the street, deli owner Eli Saady saaw coffee cansprojected off the shelf in the earthquake, when employee KevinHernandez came running from the back of the store. He was workingin the back and he ran out, he said. I ran too.
[My daughter and I] were in a diner and I felt emotional – Ithought I was passing out, but everyone felt it and said it’s notjust me, said Melissa Ozdemir of Bay Ridge. The whole buildingwas moving, like you’re in a box.
For others, their fear was heightened by the simultaneous senseof uncertainty and déjà vu. Maureen Scaramell was outside ofCentury 21 on 86th Street when she felt the ground shake, looked upand suddenly saw masses of people heading towards her – towards theexit doors.
People were running out, screaming earthquake, said Scaramellwhile sitting calmly at a bus shelter on Third Avenue about an hourlater. People were frightened, afraid of the aftershocks. I thinkwe had an earthquake in 1986, at 6 a.m., so I’m not surprised, butI didn’t think it would happen again.
Then there was Joy F.’s reaction, which quickly went fromhesitation to instinctual focus to eerie familiarity.
At first, I thought the building was collapsing, so we gotout, said the long-time Bay Ridge resident, who was inside MimiNails with her sleeping five-month-old son at the time. Everyonewas organized. We tried to call [family], but there was already nocell phone service. It felt like 9/11. After 9/11, everything justfeels scarier.
The earthquake was felt as far north as Maine and Ontario,Canada, as far south as Georgia and as far west as Ohio.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was centeredfive miles from Mineral, VA, 36 miles from Richmond and 84 milesfrom Washington, D.C., where the White House, Pentagon, Capitol andother buildings were evacuated.
In the five boroughs, the reaction was also swift. Both BoroughHall and City Hall were evacuated, along with city courts andBrooklyn Federal Court, and work was halted at the World TradeCenter construction site.
Justin Brannan, communications director for CouncilmemberVincent Gentile, was at City Hall when the building wasevacuated.
[The tension] was palpable, Brannan said. We’re on the 17thfloor. It was enough to make us stand up and wonder what washappening, but then we sat down and kept working. That’s that NewYork resilience.
Such resilience was also evident in the actions of local policeand community leaders. The 68th Precinct Community Councilimmediately began sending emails with public safety updates andnotifications about precautions being taken by law enforcement.
Within minutes of the tremors, [officers] were on the phonewith our elected officials, our community board, and many of ourcommunity leaders to determine if there were any in the communityin need of assistance, said Council President Ilene Sacco.Fortunately, the situation in our community was similar to therest of the city – minimal damages and minimal injuries.
According to Brannan, although Gentile’s office was flooded withcalls after the quake, there appears to have been minimal reporteddamage, a claim supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statementfollowing the natural disaster.
The MTA and police continue to inspect bridges, roads and raillines, although no service disruptions were reported. MTAspokesperson Kevin Ortiz advised residents to check the MTA’swebsite, www.mta.info for updates.