East coast of US rocked by 5.8-magnitude earthquake
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Wednesday 24 August 2011
The capital of the free world has experienced many a man-made shock in recent years: a major terrorist attack, serial sniper murders, an anthrax scare, not to mention a brush with national debt default. Yesterday, though, Washington DC received a rare and jarring shock at the hand of Mother Nature: a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled structures, emptied the Capitol and other office buildings, and crashed mobile phone networks.
The quake, whose epicentre was 83 miles away to the south-west in rural Virginia, occurred shortly before 2pm local time at a depth of 3.7 miles. The tremors were felt across the eastern US and along the Atlantic seaboard, from Toronto in Canada to the north, to Atlanta, Georgia, in the south. In New York, some skyscrapers swayed. Overall, however, damage appears to have been light. A few minor injuries were reported, and plaster, tiles and bricks fell off some buildings, especially in Richmond, Virginia, the closest major metropolitan area to the epicentre.
In the capital, three of the four pinnacles on the National Cathedral were dislodged, and stonemasons were examining possible damage to the central tower of the building, which dominates the skyline in north-west Washington. Other major historic sights, including the 555-foot tall Washington Monument, were shut as a precaution.
Key infrastructure was unharmed. A few miles from the quake's epicentre in tiny Mineral, Virginia, the North Anna nuclear power plant was functioning as usual, after its two reactors were shut down automatically. The facility can operate indefinitely on generator power, a spokesman said.
But there was no concealing the general jitters, especially with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and the knowledge that Washington and New York are the terrorists' prime targets on the US mainland.
On a perfect late summer afternoon in residential north-west Washington, where houses shook for some 15 seconds, many eyes anxiously turned south towards the city centre to check for plumes of smoke, or worse. "When I heard it was only an earthquake, I was relieved," one local worker said.
Then the cable TV networks took over. Götterdämmerung in Tripoli was temporarily forgotten, as the focus switched to whether the holidaying President Barack Obama had felt the quake while he was playing golf on the island resort of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The tremor was a reminder that California is not the only place in the US where earthquakes happen. Yesterday's was the 25th in Virginia's 223 years of statehood. According to experts, it was large by East Coast standards, but modest compared to the monster 1811/1812 New Madrid quakes south of St Louis, that briefly reversed the flow of the Mississippi river.
Mother Nature hasn't finished with Washington. This weekend the Mid-Atlantic region is likely to be brushed by Hurricane Irene, heading for the Bahamas, set to be the most powerful tropical storm of the season so far.
Top Un: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un is Maverick as he poses with all-female pilot crew of the Anti-Air Force Unit
Belle Knox: How the porn star student from Duke University became bigger than Justin Bieber
Top 10 most expensive cities in the world: Singapore named costliest place to live – but what about London?
Oscar Pistorius trial: Athlete 'cheated on me' with Reeva Steenkamp, former girlfriend Samantha Taylor tells Pretoria court
Channel 4 announces two-hour TV show to be broadcast 'Live from Space' later this month
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Italian pensioner hires an escort who turns out to be his son's girlfriend
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role to marry Natasha Richardson
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...