In the end, our little 5.8 magnitude earthquake didn't amount to much. No one seems to have been hurt, and try as they might, the breathless TV news channels couldn't come up with much more than endlessly repeating clips of crowds gathered outside evacuated office buildings, small piles of debris and – the pièce de résistance – a couple of parked cars crushed by masonry from what must have been a very shoddy bit of construction indeed.
But on the Richter scale of mirth, it was at least a seven-pointer. Nowhere was the laughter louder that on the West Coast, where, as a reader wrote on the San Francisco Chronicle web site after the quake was initially estimated as a 5.9: "We eat 5.9 for breakfast."
Dennis Miller, a resident of the San Francisco suburb of Pleasanton, wrote on Facebook: "A 5.8? I wouldn't even wake up to a 5.8 if I was asleep."
But on the east coast even starchy Washington managed a giggle too. One picture doing the rounds on the internet recorded more than 2.2 million hits in the first 24 hours after the quake. It showed a single white garden chair on its side, on an otherwise immaculate green suburban lawn, beneath the title "DC Earthquake Devastation".
Amazingly, in a city which makes its living out of political bickering, Republicans and Democrats have yet to come blows over the tremor. But that hasn't stopped the political jokes – some of them riffing off the President's supine performance in the recent debt ceiling debate. "There was just a 5.8 earthquake in Washington," read one tweet. "Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.8, so he compromised."
Above all, though, the great Virginia quake of August 2011 proved that the first taste of anything tends to be a shock. That was the case on 9/11, a beautiful late summer day just like Tuesday – and the thought must have raced through millions of minds that this time, al-Qa'ida had got off the big one.
Earthquakes do happen east of the Rockies (the series of New Madrid quakes in 1811-12, today estimated at 8.0 monsters, briefly reversed the flow of the mighty Mississippi). But not often. In this part of the world, a terrorist attack would have been far less of a surprise. And as for the smirking on the West Coast – how would Los Angeles react to a couple of feet of snow?
East-West rivalry in tweets
* 5.9? That's what us Californians use to stir our coffee with :) #earthquake #WashingtonDC
@FohBohGal (Sarah Atkinson, social media blogger)
* The collective eye-rolling of everyone in California is probably moving the earth more than the east coast #earthquake
@rob_sheridan (Rob Sheridan, artist)
* East coast "rocked" by a 5.8 earthquake while Californians yawn. *Yawn*
@childsplayx3 (Matthew, blogger)
* To all my east coast friends, earthquakes are just natural events that occur when real estate values become too high. #Earthquake
@jsatz23 (Justin Satzman, social media coordinator)
* Hey East Coast, the entire West Coast is mocking you right now... #earthquake #bestcoast
ToddWalkerKTUU Todd Walker (Anchor for Alaskan TV channel)Reuse content