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EARTHQUAKE MEMORIES: ‘All of a sudden, my world started rocking’

When the magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck this community a year ago Thursday, we were working, driving, fishing and eating lunch.

We were on the massage table, in the grocery store, in the doctor’s office and, mostly, in disbelief.

We asked you what you remembered about that day, and many of you recalled with considerable clarity exactly where you were and what you were doing when your world started to shake.

We share those recollections below as well as in the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday editions of the Free Lance–Star.

—Edie Gross


Mary Robinson of Colonial Beach was dozing in her recliner when the quake struck.

On Aug. 23, 2011, I was in my recliner, checking to see if my eye lids leaked (at 84, I have to check on these things). I felt as though someone pulled the back of my chair. I continued to check my lids—another pull. I sat upright—nothing there.

I looked across the room, and my grandfather clock was swaying back and forth. I guess it shook grandfather (clock) as well as grandmother (me) as we both stopped for awhile.

I lost some sleep, but grandfather clock now loses about 20 minutes a day (that makes two of us). By the way, we both got a year older.

—Mary E. Robinson, Colonial Beach


The day of the earthquake was the same day I decided to learn how to fish—casting the line, baiting the hook and just relaxing until I got my first bite. Our family and friends visiting from out-of-town made a trip to Lake Anna and were on our way to a serenity-filled day.

We found a small pier, set up our fishing gear and cast the lines. I had just commented to my husband that I could really learn to like fishing and the quiet that came with it. That said, the pier started shaking, a fishing net fell into the water and people just stopped what they were doing.

We ran off the pier and onto the beach, and my husband said he thought it was an earthquake. “Yeah, right!” I commented, thinking that we never had earthquakes here that I could remember.

When it was confirmed that it was an earthquake, and we were very close to where it started (Mineral), it was unbelievable. We left Lake Anna with our fishing gear, still in a daze about what had happened, and haven’t gone fishing since. I am looking for a different, “relaxing” hobby now.

—Lenora Kruk-Mullanaphy, Stafford


I was coming back from northern Maryland when I approached the U.S. 301 bridge driving a large truck. I was nearing the top of the bridge when suddenly the truck started to sway from one lane to the other. I had no idea what was going on. I thought there was something wrong with my truck, or maybe there was something wrong with the roadway.

There were no cars coming down the other lane, and I had all I could do to keep the truck in the right-hand lane. This lasted about 10 to 12 seconds. I had no idea that an earthquake was happening. When I got down to the Virginia side, I pulled over to check the truck to make sure that everything was OK.

Before I started on my way, I called my friend to talk to him about going for a motorcycle ride that afternoon. He said to me, “Hey, man, did you feel that earthquake that just happened?” I said to him, “So that’s what was just happening on that bridge.”

I go over this bridge at least once a week, and every time I go over it, I always remember that day.

—Len Hilliker, Montross


I was having lunch with a friend at a table just outside the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. I heard what seemed to be an explosion and saw the Madison Building shudder. Is it a terrorist attack? Is the building about to collapse?

People began to pour out of the building, and I soon learned that I would not be permitted to re-enter it. I was glad to come back several days later, retrieve my briefcase and find little damage, as far as I could tell—only a plaster crack in a staircase wall.

—Peter Kearney, Stafford


When I encountered the effects of the earthquake, I was riding over the bridge on the Blue and Gray Parkway. Just as I passed over the Rappahannock River, my pickup truck started to wobble and I thought I was driving on mud. I thought I had a flat tire and I pulled off to the side and got out and checked my tires.

All the tires checked out. I thought I was having my first real “senior moment.” I looked down the road and there was another car pulled over with the driver checking his tires. He looked back at me with a puzzled look on his face. Both of us held our hands out to the side and shrugged our shoulders at the same time.

I got into my truck and drove toward U.s. 1. I thought I was going to hear Rod Serling’s voice on the intro to “The Twilight Zone.” My son, Adam, who lives in Baltimore, called and asked if I felt the earthquake. At first, I said that I didn’t feel anything, but then “The Twilight Zone” music theme started up in my head again. And the radio made the announcement about the earthquake.

By the way, I was on the 14th Street Bridge in D.C. when I heard JFK was shot. Does this mean something?

—Jim Grace, Locust Grove


My wife and I had just dropped off our first-born son at JMU, for his first semester. I was the only one who cried. Roughly 10 minutes into the drive home, still emotional, I heard from a co-worker back at our office near D.C.

Via text, she said we’d just had an earthquake. I figured she was referring to the latest mini-tantrum from a lovable but fussy fellow employee. We soon realized she wasn’t joking, and were surprised but grateful to pick up WTOP.

A little farther into the drive, we heard that Mineral, Va., had been the epicenter—we were stopped at a road sign that listed Mineral, which was eerie. The experience didn’t change us, but if there’s another earthquake when we drop off No. 2 Son at college in 2014, I’ll worry.

—Jordan P. (Bud) Biscardo, Stafford


Mary Spano and I, members of the Ladies Memorial Association, were checking headstones in the Confederate Cemetery when “IT” began. Mike Witt, a local arborist who helps care for our beautiful old trees, accompanied us. A deep rumble sounding like a runaway cement truck began on Washington Avenue and came closer and closer to our entrance gates.

All of a sudden, our knees and feet trembled and shook, threatening our balance when the ground began undulating. Mike knew immediately it was a quake, but I said, “No—someone below is trying to get out or else we’re being pulled in!”

—Lou Silvey, Fredericksburg


I will never forget where I was when the earthquake of 2011 hit the Fredericksburg area. I was at Lee’s Hill Imaging for a mammogram. Just as I was being “compressed,” the tech and I felt the building start to shake. The tech was very concerned because she was afraid that something was happening to the MRI machine. She quickly hit the button to get me loose and grabbed me.

We fled the building as I hurriedly tried to cover up with that shift top that one wears during the exam. I stood outside in the parking lot, scantily dressed, without my purse, street clothes or cell phone. I was anxious that I was unable to contact my family members.

Once the staff realized that it had been an earthquake and not the MRI machine, I was allowed to quickly enter the building and retrieve my belongings. Needless to say, I had to reschedule my appointment.

—Robin Coppock, Spotsylvania


I drove our old pickup to run errands that Tuesday morning. At the gas station, I smelled smoke when pulling out of the station driveway, so I headed to the Wegmans parking lot about two blocks away to check it out. I got out to look and saw the right front wheel pouring out smoke.

I called 911. The fire truck came immediately, determined that it was a brake caliper that seized and burned. They lifted the hood to check the engine area and declared no fire there. They advised me that the vehicle would have to be towed.

I called the tow service and waited. The hood was up, the big driver’s door of the truck was open, and I stood between the open door and the driver’s seat, facing the back of the truck.

Suddenly, I began to have the sensation that I was falling down. Impossible! I have very good balance. At the same time, I realized that the truck’s hood began flapping like a giant bird’s wing trying to take flight, and the heavy truck door began moving away from me.

Simultaneously, I realized that my right foot, farthest away from the truck, had gone up, and then my left foot had gone up. Then there was a jerk, followed by the right foot going back down, followed by the left foot.

“Jump back! Earthquake!” my mind screamed. “Get away from the door of the truck!” Fortunately, the body responded quickly so that I was not slammed by the truck door. (My frail bones would have been fractured by the flapping door.) The entire truck was doing some strange kind of boogie dance!

I realized I had just ridden “the asphalt wave.” The wave had lifted me up about 10 inches.

I had heard no rumbling noise in that parking lot. There were no customers running from Wegmans or car alarms going off in the lot. (I found out later that the Wegmans store had been constructed to withstand an earthquake of a magnitude 5.8. Only four bottles of wine had fallen in the store, and some of the cashiers did not even realize there had been any kind of event.)

Within moments, a car pulled up nearby and a lady jumped out, running over to me, yelling, “Can you use your cell phone? I can’t use mine!” She told a story of having been in a Walmart nearby that was evacuated because shelves were rocking from the earthquake that had just hit. “No one could use their cell phones!”

So my conclusion that I had just experienced an earthquake had been verified by this lady. And I had ridden the asphalt wave! Cool. It is too bad my mind did not comprehend that at the time. I could have watched the wave travel across the parking lot if I had!

—Margaret Ann Holt, Stafford


My husband Hugh and I were on vacation in New York City on the Tuesday that the earthquake hit. We were having lunch in Katz’s Delicatessen, of “When Harry Met Sally” fame. I felt a rumbling under my seat, but when I looked out the window and saw a big truck going by, I figured the truck was the source of the rumbling.

After lunch, I went to the ladies’ room. A woman rushed in and exclaimed to everyone, “Hey, did you hear about the earthquake in Virginia?” At our next stop, the NYC Tenement Museum, Hugh asked one of their employees about the quake. She confirmed the news report. Just then our cell phones started ringing—our daughters called to be sure we were OK, as they had heard that the quake had been felt in NYC! So the rumbling I felt was neither the big truck nor my tummy waiting for its half of a pastrami sandwich.

We called the neighbor who was looking after our house. She said there were a few pictures crooked on the walls and a couple of knickknacks had fallen, but no damage. Hugh was very worried, as we did not have earthquake insurance. We do now. We also canceled our planned visit to the Empire State Building.

The postscript to the story: That Thursday we were sitting in Times Square, waiting to go to a show. Our neighbor called to say that a microburst had ripped through our neighborhood, taking out the beautiful ash tree in our front yard. Neighbors were standing by with a chain saw as the tree had split, and half of it was hanging precariously near another neighbor’s roof.

We were supposed to leave for home on Sunday. Hurricane Irene had other ideas. Airports closed, all flights canceled. Luckily we were able to extend our hotel stay by a couple of days. Hunkered down in a hotel in mid-Manhattan, I slept in my clothes, fully expecting to have to evacuate. Next morning, Irene barely glanced off the Brooklyn coast and headed to New England to cause a lot of damage. All NYC transportation had been suspended in anticipation of Irene’s arrival. It was surreal to be walking around Times Square, Rockefeller Center, etc. with no buses or trucks and very few cars.

What a vacation.

—Marian McCabe, Spotsylvania


I had lunch with friends at Spotsylvania Court House, and I was on my way home at the time of the quake. I did not feel anything, but when I got home I thought someone had trashed my home: broken glass, things upside down, cracked walls, drawers open. Everything was so quiet. I went outside, and someone stopped and asked me if I was all right. She told me there had been an earthquake. I will never forget it and the tremors after.

—Betty Gentry, Bumpass


In the basement of my house is a ‘sewage sump pump,’ with an alarm that is supposed to go off if the pump malfunctions. The alarm is a large round bell that makes a loud, vibrating noise. The problem is that the alarm itself often malfunctions, going off unexpectedly when nothing is wrong—and when the pump isn’t even in use.

So, on August 23, 2011, when I was in my pantry and suddenly there was this loud, growling noise, I thought, “There goes that dang sump pump alarm again.”

But it was SO loud!!! It sounded like a freight train, or a huge semi, was hurtling through my basement, just under where I was standing. And then I noticed the soup cans on the shelves bouncing up and down, doing a little dance. I thought, “The sump pump alarm doesn’t do that!”

Fleeting thoughts raced through my mind. Was this a bomb? Some kind of terrorist attack? Could it be an earthquake? In this area? The first two seemed unlikely. What are you supposed to do in an earthquake? Aren’t you supposed to get outside so the building won’t collapse around you? What if I DID go outside and was swallowed up by a giant crack in the earth?

While I was frantically trying to decide what to do, it stopped. After a few minutes I went outside. Everything looked normal. But down the street, two neighbors were in their respective yards yelling at each other, “What the heck just happened?”

I never found any damage to my house, but my church in Stafford County sustained some minor damage. Of the many aftershocks, I only felt one, a very brief mini-tremor. I was very sad when I saw the damage to the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument. But, they will be fixed. It could have been so much worse! This was my first earthquake and, I hope, my last.

—Sarah Marcus, Spotsylvania

I was rocking my 9-month-old grandson when the quake hit. My first thought was we were under attack. (I married a United States Marine!) With my cell phone in my pocket, I carried my grandson to the basement and called my husband on the land-line. I don’t know why I didn’t use my cell.

He reassured me it was an earthquake and to get out of the basement and go outside. With my grandson snuggled close to my heart, I did, and nobody else in our cul-de-sac was out. It was surreal, like a ghost town. At that point, cell service was jammed.

Back inside, the news told all. Yes, the experience did change me. I believe I have more compassion and understanding for victims of natural disasters, those who endure far more than I ever have. I am so very thankful for my blessings.

Shortly after that, with a hurricane predicted for our area, I did not drive to NY for my class reunion. I compare my feelings to being gun shy and I simply wanted to stay home with my family close by. Now whenever thunder rolls around, I think we’re having an earthquake. My grandson, on the other hand, has no ill effects from the earthquake!

—Janet Geer, Spotsylvania


I was at work, standing in the hall talking to a co-worker, when I heard a loud noise, like a truck had crashed into the building. Then the shaking started. Having grown up in Southern California, I knew immediately what it was, but this is Virginia and we don’t have earthquakes!

Anyway, I went into California mode, grabbed my co-worker and pulled her into a doorway. Then I played the “What’s the magnitude?” game, something we do when an earthquake hits where I come from. I guessed a 6, which wasn’t too far off!

After the shaking stopped, we noticed a few ceiling tiles down, but no further damage. A lot of folks were scared and shaken, but no one was hurt and life went on.

I’d rather have an earthquake than a hurricane. You have too much time to worry when a hurricane is predicted. With an earthquake, it happens, then it’s over!

—Judy Little, Spotsylvania


The very split second the earthquake began I had entered the basement and flipped the light switch on. My first reaction was there had been a gas leak in the house and a spark from the light had ignited the gas and blown up the house. It was an experience that I will never forget.

—Eugene Garner, Spotsylvania


I was in Charlottesville in the UVa. Hospital that day in the middle of a colonoscopy when the quake occurred. The staff in the operating room got excited, and I heard some running around. I was on the table and was watching the monitor during the procedure when the table started shaking and the monitor bouncing up and down.

Fortunately the doctor kept a steady hand and didn’t blaze any new trails. Of course, I was given some happy medicine prior to the procedure, so when the quake started I couldn’t care less. My wife and our oldest son were in the waiting room, and the chairs were shaking and hitting the walls. It got a little exciting for those waiting, but they did not have the advantage of a dose of happy medicine.

As far as I know, there was no damage to myself or the building.

—Larry Cameron, King George


We were house/dog-sitting our daughter’s house in Fredericksburg while they were away on vacation at the time of the quake. My husband had left to get the oil changed in the car. I did not have the TV or radio on at the time, and I was down on the floor cleaning a spot the dog had made on the carpet.

All of a sudden, my world starting rocking. I got up and felt like I was in a horror movie. I really thought it was the end of the world. Everything was shaking so badly, and I was so scared. Drawers were sliding open in the kitchen. I could hear the walls creaking under the strain, so I ran outside to the back deck.

Their house is on 3 acres, so I could see no sign of life anywhere. I tried to use my cell phone but could not get through. It was the worst feeling of my life of 65 years. I was in such a panic. It seemed to last an eternity at the time. I ran inside to turn on the TV and was amazed to see normal programs.

Then I feared there must have been an explosion or something nearby. The last thing I ever thought of was an earthquake—in Virginia? Then reports came in on the TV, and only then did I realize that I had been through my first earthquake. Still shaking, minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was my son from Pennsylvania and it was like an angel knew I was alone, frightened and needed help. He calmed me down and told me to check for the smell of gas in case there had been a ruptured line.

I could not believe the chaos it caused. It had literally shaken ornaments off shelves, tilted pictures and mirrors. Hours later when I had calmed down and felt safe once again I thought, “If my grandson Ben would have been here, he would have thought this was really cool.”

—Christine M. Kilmer, Montross


We were camping in Fairbanks, Alaska, on the day of the earthquake. A fellow camper came by to ask if we weren’t the couple from central Virginia. The news there was reporting a major earthquake in Louisa/Orange County, Va. We were amazed to be 6,000 miles away and have our community—including pictures of familiar places/people—in the local news!

—Gwen and Donny Taylor, Orange


I worked as a research physicist for the Naval Research Laboratory at a satellite-tracking facility outside La Plata, Md. The building I work in is a three-story tower made from steel girders, clad in sheet metal to form labs and offices, and topped by a geodesic dome to cover a tracking dish antenna.

It’s not uncommon for the antenna to cause the building to shake when it starts or stops, so when the building started to shake, I didn’t give it too much thought at first. But the shaking continued and intensified. I thought we had a runaway antenna, and if it wasn’t stopped quickly, it was going to tear off its mount and bring the building down with it.

I raced into the control room and instructed the antenna to stop. It was stopped, so I shot the researcher using the antenna a quizzical look. About this time we were joined by another, who thought the same thing as me and had the same intention. As the shaking died down, the researcher told us that a colleague in D.C. with whom he was on the phone informed him that an earthquake had hit. At first, I thought he was pulling our legs, but nothing else could explain what had just happened. The quake was quickly confirmed.

Inspections of the site structures revealed no damage. We later learned that the shaking wasn’t all that bad, but the construction of the building I was in magnified the effect. I wasn’t scared, but mightily concerned about losing precious equipment. Only later did I and the other “first responder” admit to each other that our first actions should have been to get out of the building!

—Robin Smith, Spotsylvania


My bathroom remodeling project was in its final stage when the earth started to move. My initial reaction was that machinery had run amok, gone into a wall, and my beautiful new bathroom was now in ruins.

As the three contractors sprinted out of my house, screaming “What the —- was that!??” I knew immediately that it was not a work-related incident.

Having lived in San Francisco for 10 years and having survived a horrific 7.1 quake, I was extremely confident that I knew what an earthquake felt like. Little did I think that it would follow me to the East Coast! The memories all returned as nature showed its fury once again.

—Dolores Plunkett, Stafford

Bill and Colleen English’s clock stopped at the time the quake struck.

Aug. 23 was just a normal day for me. My husband was at work. I was doing some laundry and cleaning house. We have a front-load washer located on the second floor, so sometimes when the washer spins, it shakes the house a little. This time was no different, especially since I was washing a heavy duty load of towels.

Just before the washer started to spin, our mini dachshund began to whine and look toward the dining room. Then the washer was spinning and the whole house was shaking. It just wouldn’t stop. There were sounds of glass breaking in the dining room and things falling upstairs. My first thought was that my husband was going to be furious if the china he purchased overseas in the ’60s got broken.

Once the shaking stopped, I realized that this had nothing to do with the washing machine. Neighbors began checking on each other. Cell phones were jammed with calls being made to loved ones. We thought maybe it was the training exercises at Quantico or that we were under attack from some yet-unknown entity. Soon we realized that neither was the case. Rather, it was an earthquake.

Fortunately, we had little damage and the china survived. Just before we could feel the aftershocks, our dachshund would look toward the dining room and whine. Guess she could sense them before we could. The strangest thing about this was that our clock in the family room, a wind-up pendulum type, stopped at exactly the time of the quake.

—Colleen English, Stafford


I am the librarian at Fredericksburg Christian Lower School. The earthquake happened on our third full day of school, before we had even practiced our emergency procedures for the school year. The amazing thing was that our theme for the school year was “Fearless,” based on the scripture Isaiah 41:13. We had no idea how we would be living out our theme that year!

Standing in the library, I heard the rumble well before I felt any shaking. Since our library is located in part of our building that is basically a basement, not a book on the shelves moved! But then all the doors to the classrooms began slamming as teachers followed our standard emergency procedures. I truly thought we had been bombed, but then learned that it was an earthquake.

Once our principal made sure all students and staff were safe and accounted for, we proceeded outside as if we were having a normal emergency drill practice. Our principal spoke to the students, encouraging them and reminding them that God is in control ALL the time—even in earthquakes. Then the students began singing praise songs right there while standing in the gravel parking lot! It was simply awesome! And certainly unforgettable on many levels!

Back at my house, the only signs of an earthquake were a few tilted pictures on the wall. My sister lives in Louisa in a 100-year-old farmhouse. The earthquake cracked every wall in her house and took down the two chimneys. Because the walls were plaster, there was plaster dust and broken glass everywhere. So the day after the earthquake I joined about 15 family members and friends to continue the cleanup process at her home. We worked on patching the roof as quickly as possible as a hurricane was expected to come in Friday—three days after the earthquake! My sister and her husband were finally able to move back into their home in June 2012 after many months of repairs.

What I thought was going to be a normal day turned out to be anything but normal. I guess I can add my “where was I when . . .” memory to the other moments in history I have lived through: the Challenger explosion, Sept. 11, the D.C. sniper . . ..

I may not have expected an earthquake that day, but the Creator was and is in charge, not me! He keeps me fearless!

—Sharee Skinner, Caroline


It was the last work day before the first day of school for students. I was sitting at my desk at Courthouse Road Elementary doing paperwork and getting organized. There had been maintenance men working on our air conditioning a few days before, which hopefully would make things more comfortable in the classroom. I heard rumbling across the ceiling, which sounded like workmen rolling something along the roof, probably working on the A/C again.

The rumbling got louder and louder. I finally realized that that noise was not the workmen, but an earthquake. Immediately I ran to the doorway remembering that that’s one place to stand for safety, when I saw people running down the hallway and outside. That’s when I grasped the reality that “Dummy, you’re supposed to leave the building in case it collapses!” So that’s when I ran outside with everyone else!

—Judy Porro, Locust Grove


The day of the earthquake was a very big day for our household. My husband had to leave very early that morning for his second surgery on his shoulder. He had a torn rotator cuff and needed to have his biceps tendon released and reattached. My husband is a soldier at Fort Belvoir and had to have his surgery done up there at their hospital. I stayed at home with our four kids, one being a newborn.

His friend from work brought him home after he was released. His friend helped him into the house and gave me the instructions the doctor gave him for taking care of him. After his friend left, I got my husband settled in the recliner in our room, where he would have to rest and sleep for the next month.

I had just walked back downstairs and into the kitchen when all of a sudden the whole house started to shake. I first looked out the kitchen window for tanks, because after living on a military post for so long, this was my first thought. Then I looked up for helicopters, because I had also lived on a helicopter base for two years. I didn’t see any tanks or helicopters, and as the shaking got stronger, I realized it was an earthquake.

I quickly picked up my baby and called for the other three kids to run to me. We gathered together in a doorway because, being from California, this is what we were taught to do. A few things fell off the shelves, but no serious damage was done. I went around the house fixing the shelves and had the kids sit on the couch and went right to reading them a story. I was very shaken and could not believe that we just had an earthquake.

But my first thought was to make sure that the kids were OK and not scared about what just happened. I forgot that my husband was upstairs recovering from his surgery. He still brings that up. He said he thought the painkillers were making him crazy, and when it was over and no one came to check in on him, he came down looking for us.

I can’t believe it has been a year since this event. The strange thing is that as I write, my husband is at the Fort Belvoir hospital having surgery on the same shoulder again. This is his third surgery and we are praying his last. Now I am praying that we don’t have any crazy disasters when he gets home!

—Sarah Quiroz, Spotsylvania


I was in Mineral having my motorcycle inspected at a local garage, which was located about 30 to 40 yards from the railroad tracks. When the quake hit, there was a tremendously loud sound—my first thought was that two trains were colliding on the tracks behind me. I stepped out of the shop and looked both ways along the track, but saw nothing.

At the same time, the building started shaking violently, swaying back and forth. There was a large heating furnace attached to the apex of the shop area, which I thought would come down at any moment, but it didn’t. After seeing that there were no trains colliding, I thought “earthquake.” First time I had experienced one.

I was inside the open-door shop when it first started, but immediately backed out, thinking that the building might collapse. After the 40 or so seconds of shaking and noise, all stopped and was quite. Stepping back into the shop, my bike was on the floor. There was such ground movement that it shook the bike over off its kickstand. The bike received minor damage—a small scrape and a broken brake lever.

After gaining my wits and realizing what just had happened, I surveyed the shop building and saw no real damage. Thought that some of the cars up on the racks might have been thrown off, but not so. But the old brick building next to the shop had much of the top brick wall damaged and fallen. Most all of the bricks were at the base of the building, but I found one thrown about 30 feet from the building in the parking lot.

As to the change that the quake brought in my life, for the next month or so, any loud sound rattled me and made my heartbeat go up a few notches. While sitting at home watching TV, one of the more pronounced aftershocks hit, and I just sat, almost paralyzed, watching the house shake and feeling so helpless. I normally can take things in stride—hurricanes, snow storms and the like where one has some warning. But for an earthquake, there is no warning, and the feeling is sheer terror for a moment.

—Sherman Frye, Lake Anna


I was returning a wheelchair to Pat Grimes, Inc., a medical supply company, and had the urge to use the restroom. While in the restroom, I heard a noise overhead. As I struggled to get myself together, someone yelled, “Get out—earthquake!”

One of the workers came back in the building looking for me. We both attempted to crouch under a desk but there was not enough room, so we decided to leave the building.

—Margaret P. Johnson, King George


When the Aug. 23 earthquake hit, I was about halfway through a relaxing, hot stone massage at Massage Envy in Fredericksburg. I remember saying, “What was that?” Zaida, my masseuse, said, “It’s an earthquake” and grabbed my hands as we began praying that we would all be OK.

My immediate thoughts were concerned that the building would remain standing and then wondering how bad the traffic would be, knowing that I had to pick up a friend at 3 p.m. at the Dialysis Center. I anticipated that traffic lights would not be working and the possibility of debris on the roads. I then thought of all those patients hooked to dialysis and how panicked they must have been. I was concerned about my husband, whom I knew was at Izaak Walton League, and tried to reach him by cell phone.

As I recall, the 2-mile trip to dialysis was uneventful, the sun was shining and it was almost like nothing had even occurred. Arriving home, my previously locked patio slider was open about 12 inches, knickknacks askew and pictures down on my buffet. I called my son and daughter, both in Maryland, to let them know that we were OK and learned from them that the epicenter was only about 30 miles from us. Talking to friends and neighbors in the next few days, I was glad I was where I was as everyone said that their house shook badly.

I now have more respect for the power of all storms and know how very lucky we were with the Virginia earthquake of 2011.

—Sally Lyddane, Lake of the Woods


We had been savoring our annual family trek to Sandbridge Beach, Va. Several of us were nestled in oceanfront sand chairs enjoying the sights and sounds of the beach. After a brief time, two of us simultaneously questioned why our chairs were moving in the sand.

With preteens along, we assumed we were being pranked. Others inside the house experienced stronger effects. Within five minutes, one of our cell phones rang with the message from a friend in Fredericksburg, telling us about the earthquake in Louisa. Having never experienced a quake, we were amazed the power of the quake had traveled that far.

We always laugh about our family outings being more of an adventure than a trip, so this was the defining moment of 2011, so we thought. By the end of the week, Hurricane Irene was heading up the East Coast, and we were evacuated a day early! Soon, we will once again have our compass set to lead us back to Sandbridge. Can’t wait to see what new experience awaits us!

—Bonnie Baker and Family, Fredericksburg


It was election day and I was working at the polls. I live in the old Dunbar Kitchen house in Falmouth and was worried that the earthquake had damaged the old place (circa 1699).

We moved all the voting equipment outside and never turned a voter away. Later that night, I returned to Falmouth, and the old house was just fine, but it really did shake the building we were voting in.

—John Marshall Cheatwood, Stafford


Here is my story of that awful, scary day. I had come from work, picked up my grandsons and taken them to The Spotsylvania Towne Centre. We walked for awhile, then I took them to Buzzy’s Play Park.

My grandson, Jakobe, who is 8, was playing and having fun, and I was sitting on the floor with my 10-month-old grandson, Xavier. I had taken my shoes off and put them under one of the benches when all of a sudden I heard the noise. It sounded like a freight train coming underground.

I started to get up from the floor, and then I knew it was an earthquake. I grabbed my grandson and his diaper bag, yelled at my 8-year-old grandson to start running and we headed out—while he is asking me, “Grandma what’s going on?”—without looking back. Once we got outside and I stepped on the sidewalk, that’s when I noticed I had no shoes on (the sidewalk was way too hot). I also noticed that Jakobe had grabbed his little cousin’s stroller (bless his heart).

We tried to call my daughters unsuccessfully. It took us at least 15 to 20 minutes to get in contact with them. The rest is history. My grandson begged me not to go back inside for my shoes (to this day, I don’t know what happened to them) and we stayed away from the mall for a couple of months.

Yes, it changed me. I had to explain to my grandson why things like that happen and we have no control over them. Also, I was thankful that nothing catastrophic happened (except me losing my shoes) and that all I could think in that moment was to take my grandsons to a safer place. I hope that my shoes had a bigger purpose in life, wherever they are.

—Judith Santiago, Spotsylvania


When the earthquake hit last Aug. 23, DECA at King George High School had already started “Shaking Things Up” for the coming school year! This was the day of our annual New Officer Team Retreat. We were in the marketing lab at KGHS, lunch was over, our guest speaker had left, and the officers were brainstorming their program of work, membership activities and community service projects for the chapter.

All of a sudden, it sounded like there was something rolling across the floor above us! I ran out to the hallway to see if anyone else was around (we were the only students/teacher in the building along with custodial, administration, office and guidance staff), then ran back into the classroom and yelled for the dozen or so students to move quickly with me to the front door and away from the building like we would exit for a fire drill. We were not very orderly and ran out of the building!

I need to note that at the start of the day, all the students had put their cell phones in a bucket when they entered the room to allow for total focus and attention to the speaker and tasks at hand. The last student out of the room that earthquake day remembered to grab the bucket of phones!

—Dee Strauss, King George


During the earthquake on Tuesday, Aug. 23, I was alone with my son, David, in his hospital room on the second floor at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Va. He was critically ill and I had been told the day before that it was time for final immediate family visits. My daughter, sister and other relatives had just left to return home.

All of a sudden, the room started swaying and shaking. I ran out into the hallway to the nurse’s station to find staff on the phone trying to determine what was happening too. Our first thought was maybe it was an industrial accident because there was (and, by the way, still is) a lot of construction inside and outside on the hospital grounds.

I went back in David’s room and looked out the window to see people standing out in the courtyard. I knew then that the building had been evacuated. No, the quake did not change me, but I continued to pray to ask God’s protection over us.

We survived that ordeal. The following weekend we were still at St. Mary’s when the entire area lost electrical power on Saturday afternoon—of course, generators restored limited power throughout the hospital until full power was up about six hours later. Many area residents around the hospital came to the cafeteria for Sunday morning breakfast because they could not cook at home.

David’s condition improved to the point he was discharged just after Labor Day and returned to The Virginia Home, where he has resided since November 2004. You can be sure I will never forget these events.

—LaVerne Carter, Woodford


I was on the front porch of my house on Aug. 23, cutting the dead buds off of my rose bush when I saw my two rocking chairs going back and forth. Then I heard the picture window make unusual sounds, like it was it was going to pop out.

I quickly moved off the porch and as soon as I hit the ground, all the movement was gone. It was a strange feeling.

The next thing I knew, my cell phone rang, and my oldest son said there had been an earthquake near D.C. But of course, it was in Mineral, which I found out later on the TV. It was a strange feeling. My husband was on the lawn mower and didn’t feel anything.

—Margaret Alexander, Stafford


I’m from Georgia. My husband and I just so happened to be visiting my grandma for a week when the 2011 earthquake hit. After visiting a battlefield in Fredericksburg, we headed to Cosner’s Corner for lunch at Grioli’s, our favorite place to eat when we visit. Imagine our surprise when the ground began to shake and we were told to get under the tables! It was such a surreal moment. Nearly everyone back home in Georgia was shaken up by the “earthquake” they felt, but I know it was nothing close to what we experienced that day!

—Brittany Taylor, Georgia


Being newly retired, I was enjoying a quiet shopping trip on this day. I happily entered the Hallmark Shop at Cosner’s Corner with the intention of buying some cards for upcoming birthdays. The cards I needed were in the back corner of the store.

I had only been there a minute when a loud rumble occurred and my first thought was, “WOW if that’s the air-conditioner, it needs a ‘fix.’ ” Within seconds, all the track lights (and there are lots of them!) started to shake, and the ceiling was literally moving. I knew I needed to get out of the building, and as I walked to the door, I could see shoppers from surrounding stores also exiting.

The clerks in Hallmark were fairly calm, considering many items had fallen off shelves. We all came to the same conclusion that we had experienced an earthquake and were thankful that there were no personal injuries. Of course, my first thoughts were of family safety. It took awhile to actually contact family members, but thankfully, all were safe and houses were spared.

After offering prayers of thanksgiving, I have to admit I smiled and thought, “Well my first fall of retirement has been anything but dull: Hurricane? Check. Earthquake? Check!!”

—Terrie Yates, Spotsylvania


I am a woman old enough to be on Medicare who hails from Washington state. Do I know a thing or two about earthquakes? Yes-sir-ee!

I have experienced a magnitude 7.1 in 1949, a 6.5 in 1965, and numerous other smaller ones. It starts out feeling like a large truck rumbling by and then gets stronger, like a wave rolling type feeling.

My husband and I were sitting in Miso restaurant on Jefferson Davis Highway, about to order. It sounded like the A/C unit on the roof threw a rod or had a serious malfunction. Then it stopped and started up again, this time shaking furiously back and forth.

Expert that I am, I confidently told my Virginia native husband, “This is NOT an earthquake!” Then I started to describe how this was different, all the while sitting at the table. He said, “I don’t care if it is or isn’t! We need to leave NOW!”

In a flash, it hit me—maybe it was an earthquake after all—and I exited quickly, leaving my purse and certainty behind.

—Patricia Piggee, Fredericksburg

The view from the deck outside Bob Morgan’s room at the Smithfield Station Waterfront Inn was nice, even if the shaking wasn’t.

On the day of the quake, my wife and I had just checked into the Smithfield Station Waterfront Inn located in historic Smithfield, Va. on the Pagan River. This is a three-story commercial complex built on poles over the water. The first level has a number of shops and a large restaurant. The second and third levels are rooms overlooking the marina, which is part of the complex.

Just before the quake struck, I had prepared a drink in our room on the second floor and was about to step onto the porch to look at the sailboats anchored below. Just as I was about to step through the threshold, the building began to sway left to right—and I had not yet had a sip of my bourbon and water! I soon realized I was experiencing my first earthquake, or at least the first one I sensed as a real one. A few moments later, I heard a woman yelling as she ran down the stairs from the third floor to exit the building.

During this time, my wife Sherry was in a first-floor book store, where she and the store owner thought that a large boat had struck the building, knocking books off the shelf. Afterwards, we realized that the Surry nuclear power plant was located a short distance north of Smithfield and wondered if they suffered any damage.

—Bob and Sherry Morgan, Fredericksburg


I had just finished a 1 1/2-hour massage therapy appointment. Needless to say, I was very relaxed. I got into my car, and it started rockin’ and a rollin’, and I hadn’t turned the ignition switch yet! I said What the heck. Normally I would jump and panic, but since I was so relaxed, I just looked around and wondered what was going on.

About that time, everyone came out of their houses and offices. Then I went to Wegmans and the store was abuzz. I never saw so many people talking on cell phones. I was one of them. I called my husband in Elkwood, north of Culpeper, and he said the floor in their new building was waving. I then went over to Walmart, but they wouldn’t let anyone in the store.

I came home and found dishes and glasses on the floor in the kitchen, and some pictures had come off the wall in various places. It was interesting to see what stayed up and what came down. We did have some damage as did some of our neighbors.

The funniest thing was the first major aftershock. My husband was on the phone with an HP representative from India because we were having computer problems. All of a sudden, we heard the roar. It sounded like a train was coming through the house. All I could think of was Johnny Cash’s song, “I hear the train a comin’, it’s rollin’ ’round the bend . . ..”

My husband asked the rep to hold on, and he responded, “No, Mister, I need to talk to you. I need to talk to you right now.” My husband told him that he didn’t understand, that a big aftershock was coming through the house and he would just have to hold on!! My husband’s eyes were so big they came out of his glasses. Everything shook, but nothing came off the walls.

We keep waiting for that train to come again.

—Kathleen (Kathy) Marcus, Spotsylvania


Living in Puerto Rico and going through many hurricane hits and misses, I was completely unprepared for tornadoes or an earthquake. We live very close to Shannon Airport, and planes and helicopters fly over from time to time. My office consists of two desks and chairs on the second floor of the house. My wife and I enjoy passing time on our computers there.

On Aug. 23, we were doing just that when I felt the chair start moving from side to side. I yelled at my wife, “Earthquake!” She said it was a helicopter flying over, but she jumped up as I did and opened the door to the office as the tremor was getting stronger and stronger.

Above the stairwell, there is a large, hanging lamp that was swinging from wall to wall. My wife shouted, “The lamp is going to fall.” I felt the stairs moving beneath my feet, moving in all directions. I thought they were going to collapse.

My wife was ahead of me, rushing down the stairs. The stairs have three landings, and it seemed forever to get to the bottom. My wife opened the front door, ready to run into the street, when she saw me going toward the basement door. She yelled where was I going.

“Aren’t you supposed to go to the basement?” I yelled back. No, that is a tornado, she said, and I quickly followed her into the street. People were out of their houses and trying to find out what was going on. We went in to pick up all the items that fell. It truly was a life-changing experience. No more basements in an earthquake. When we read about Mineral, our prayers went out to them.

—Bert De Vore, Spotsylvania


I was at work at the FBI Academy. I am a cook, so I was in the kitchen cooking when the building started to shake. The floor was moving. I yelled, “Earthquake!” They just looked at me.

I know what one feels like. I was in two when I was stationed in California while in the military. When the tiles started to fall and the water pipes started to leak, they began to leave the kitchen. I was one of the first who got out. We had to throw away a lot of food. What a wild day.

—Millie Johnson, Spotsylvania


Somehow, I have always seemed to be what used to be called a “Johnny-on-the-spot,” a person who is there at unexpected events. Aug. 23, 2011, was another of those times. I was again taking in the glorious shopping of our new Wegmans store. I entered the store and went to the right side to get another loaf of their red, white and blue bread.

Just after I had gotten my bread, I was with my rolling basket in the center of the bakery aisle when it sounded like a huge fan was off balance and roaring on top of the building—a conclusion adopted from being married for over 45 years to a power plant engineer, who spoke of unbalanced fans and the big noise it caused in the Possum Point Power Plant.

Then it was weird. The huge shiny cement floor in front of me came up like a 3- or 4-foot tidal wave—the whole floor—and then down in a second. The woman standing in front of a bakery machine screamed bloody murder and covered her face. A young man standing next to me at one of the displays grabbed my basket and stared blankly.

“What is it ? What is it?”

“I think it’s a tremor,” I very calmly answered.

He looked at me as if I was crazy. Still shaking, he said, “I have never, never seen anything like this.” He got ahold of himself and half smiled and said, “I have to go call my wife. She is probably very afraid.”

“Yes, do that,” I said, holding tightly to the basket, seeing the floor was settled for now. It appeared people were all running to the front of the store. I didn’t want to be in that push, so I decided to finish up buying. At the milk counter, two very young clerks stood at the door. I repeated that I thought it was just a tremor, like they have in California.

One said, “Yeah, but we are not in California.” I continued, “Oh I have a cousin in California and she tells me this happens all the time.” The two young men smiled, looked at each other and took a deep breath. It made me feel better too, to see them relax.

Upon checking out, the clerk said she heard that it was an earthquake near Louisa. Now that got my attention! As mentioned, my deceased husband had been a power plant man and my son, a nuclear specialist. My heart began to pound hard for its 82-year-old body.

My son travels for the companies, so I made sure he was not at Lake Anna. Then I sat down and had a big glass of iced tea.

—Anne Brooks Brauer, Fredericksburg


My husband and I were driving to Salt Lake City to visit our older son and his wife. While on Interstate 80 in eastern Iowa, I received a text message from the University of Mary Washington (I had recently retired from UMW), and the message said there had been an earthquake at UMW. Since it was near the beginning of fall semester, I wondered if someone was having fun with the emergency text-messaging system.

I called my younger son back in Fredericksburg, who assured me that he had just experienced the earthquake, his first ever. I was still on the phone with him when our brother-in-law called my husband’s cell phone to see if we were OK as he lives in New Zealand and had just heard that there had been an earthquake south of D.C. He had just visited us in Fredericksburg in June so was well aware we were probably near the epicenter.

We also missed the microburst two days later, then Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee that week. We were out of town for Snowmageddon in 2010 and also out of town at the end of June and beginning of July this summer and missed the storms that hit the Fredericksburg area.

Friends are suggesting we stay home more.

—Laura “Randy” Fennemore, Stafford


Eight of us get together weekly to play the old and venerated game of Mahjong. We had just started when the rumbling and shaking began. When something like that happens, my military training kicks in and I shouted, “Hit the deck.”

No questions were asked, and all eight of us went prone. So when someone asks me, “Where were you when the quake hit?” I say, “On the floor with seven ladies.”

—Kit Carson, Lake Anna


I grew up in Southern California, where I experienced many, many earthquakes—some very large and some just tremors. When the earthquake struck on Aug. 23, I was standing in the middle of my kitchen putting away groceries, and my first thought was, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! IN VIRGINIA?!!” Later that week there was a hurricane.

—Joyce Hartwick, Locust Grove


I was taking a break from sitting with my mother who was a patient at St. Mary’s Bon Secours Hospital in Richmond and decided to check my email on the computers located in a narrow hallway just off the main lobby when I heard a loud rumbling noise for about five seconds. Then I felt the building shaking. My first reaction was that we were being attacked by terrorists and that maybe I should be happy I was not at home in Spotsylvania since that was even closer to Washington, which I was sure was the terrorist target!

I quickly ran the few feet to the lobby where others were standing around with fear in their eyes, wondering what was going on and what to do. Off of the main lobby, the hospital chapel’s double glass doors were swinging back and forth like saloon doors.

At that moment, several hospital administrators (they wore suits, not scrubs) came into the lobby and started herding everyone to the courtyard, just off the lobby. We were instructed to stand away from the building, near the center of the courtyard. I follow directions well! I was the only one standing smack in the middle of the courtyard, away from the five-story building. Everyone else was standing too close for my comfort!

Within the first minute, I was able to contact my sister, who was in my mother’s hospital room, by cell phone and we asked each other the same question: “What was that?” After that first call, I was not able to get through to any other family members, not even my husband who was home in Spotsylvania.

Our home fared better than a lot of places much farther north, since we only had a few pictures lopsided on the walls and a few canned goods from the basement pantry on the floor. My husband said all the china in the china cabinet was tinkling, but otherwise, we were untouched.

—Cynthia Watkins, Spotsylvania


I will never forget the earthquake for it was my birthday and I was having lunch at Goolrick’s, sitting at the lunch counter along with a young couple who were celebrating their anniversary. I did not know them, but we talked and compared notes.

A tremendous roar was heard and sounded like a train coming up George Street. Then the old building started shaking, and it was then that I thought it was an earthquake. I went outside and saw people up and down the streets talking about what had just happened.

After seeing that everything seemed to be OK, I went back inside and finished my egg salad sandwich.

—Gene Maxey, Spotsylvania


A year ago on Aug. 23, the day before my birthday, I was in Dr. [Peter] Wong’s office going over some test results when everything started shaking. I had never experienced anything like this before, and Dr. Wong could tell I was scared.

He held my hand and prayed through the entire episode. He kept saying everyone was OK because God was in control. I will always be grateful for Dr. Wong and his great faith. Through his faith, mine was strengthened.

—Frieda Tarrh, Spotsylvania


In August 2011, my husband and I were living right off of I–395 in Alexandria. Due to our location, we were used to occasionally hearing the sound of traffic helicopters or military helicopters flying over our house.

On the day of the earthquake, I was in the kitchen when I heard a very loud roaring/whirring sound, followed by the sound of our windows and cabinets rattling. My first thought: a helicopter is about to crash through the trees and into our house. I started to run for the basement door to seek cover, but suddenly everything was quiet again.

My husband, who was in the basement at the time, came upstairs with a big grin on his face, asking, “Was that an earthquake?” We turned on the radio to learn that it had been. Then we checked the exterior and interior of our house to look for any damage.

Even though we had numerous glass items in various cabinets, none of them broke—just shifted around a bit. It took quite awhile for my heart to stop racing, but my husband thought the whole experience was pretty cool!

—Sara Johnson, Fredericksburg


When the earthquake hit on Aug. 23, 2011, I was sitting by the bed of my ill husband at the Hughes Home, 100 Caroline St. His bed started to shake, and the exterior walls started to move. My biggest fear was that the second floor may come crashing down on us. No matter what happened, I was not going to leave him alone.

I was grateful to be with him—he never realized anything had happened. I was also grateful the Hughes Home suffered no damage and everyone was safe. My husband went to be with the Lord Aug. 29, six days after the earthquake.

I was not changed by the earthquake. I was forever changed when I learned to “Trust the Lord with all my heart.” I am at peace knowing that my deceased husband is safe with the Lord.

—Sally Klotz, Spotsylvania


I live in the Lake Anna area about a mile from Lake Anna State Park. On Aug. 23, I was in Mary Washington Hospital. I had a knee replacement and was in the therapy room when the earthquake happened. It seemed like the windows were being sucked in. It sounded like a big roar.

One of the men in therapy said he thought it was an earthquake. The nurse’s assistant got us all back to our rooms, and I told her that if they evacuated, “please don’t forget about me.” As I was getting back to my room, my niece came in and said they were driving and didn’t feel anything. They heard what happened when they got to the hospital.

In my home, there were few items broken and pictures had fallen off the wall. I felt the aftershock that night at the hospital. I remember lying in bed, saying, “Lord, let my family be OK at home” because I didn’t want to go home without them. As soon as I got home, we had a storm that I thought was an earthquake. We have had so many aftershocks that I never know when it is thunder or an aftershock.

I just take one day at a time and appreciate everything that I have. I do notice the ground around my home has a lot of holes and that my chimney appears to have pulled away from my house. I consider myself lucky—people a mile from me had enormous damages.

—Laverne Haley, Spotsylvania


Being on the East Coast, I could not ever think that this would happen. I was in the kitchen, drinking water and talking to my doggy and all of a sudden I felt my head shake. The glass that I was holding tilted, and I also felt the floor shake. I could not keep my balance.

Luckily, I walked down the stairs of the house, grabbed on tightly to the rail and quickly walked out, thinking it was some rattling from their practice at Quantico Marine Corps Base.

I could not keep my balance as I walked down the stairs, but when I went outside, all the neighbors came out and surprisingly enough we all became “friends.” How wonderful but at the wrong time! I wanted to call my mother and tell her what had happened, but she is only watching from above.

Being this is my first time in an earthquake, I really got scared and just forgot everything and anything that was on my mind. All I can say is my doggy and me and husband are all OK. That was the most important thing on my mind at the time the earth shook.

—Anna Victoria Reich, Stafford


Last August when the earthquake struck, I wrote down a poem about my experience, then set the poem aside and forgot it until I saw your notice in the Free Lance–Star. My little verse:

Every now and then the planet

tells us how insecure we are.

A little before two o’clock

our building began to quiver,

and the walls shook pictures

that almost came hurtling down

but stayed tilted out-of-line,

while bureaus opened randomly

as handles vibrated a noise

when the jarring sway went on,

doors shut all by themselves

to sound like hearts pounding

until a moment’s awe had ended, 

and people ran unbidden outside

as fast as possible to safety

waiting for the aftershocks

of an earthquake in Virginia!

News reports said it was 5.8

and damage minimal, for now

—Frank Fratoe, Fredericksburg


When the earthquake hit on Aug. 23, 2011, I was sitting in my computer room talking to my son who lives in the Hartwood section of Stafford. My computer room is narrow with a set of shelves directly behind the chair in front of my desk and in which I was sitting.

The floor of the computer room started to shake and books as well as other paraphernalia started to fall off the shelves. My first reaction to this rumbling was that a large truck was driving down our street. I told my son of the shaking I was experiencing, and he said he was having the same reaction at his house.

I then knew that we were experiencing an earthquake. I never expected this in the state of Virginia in which I have lived for 32 years. This certainly changed my thinking as I now believe earthquakes no longer are limited to the West Coast and that it could happen along the East Coast as well.

—Dick Hollenbach, Lake of the Woods


My wife woke me up that day and said she felt and heard the earthquake tremors. I had only felt the strong tremors since I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids.

We looked around the house and noticed broken dishes and glass ware. We went to the basement, and it had cracks on the chimney and one of the the basement windows was cracked. Later, we realized that we had been lucky after finding out about all the damage others had received.

—Francis and Amelia Volante, King George

Luckily, Diane Ritchie had bought a bottle of wine earlier in the day.


We are about 20 miles from the epicenter. I had been in the town of Louisa volunteering, and I stopped by CVS to pick up my husband’s medication. This was about 12:30 p.m. Something persistently told me to get a bottle of wine. I tried twice to walk away, but the third time I said, “What the heck?” Always go with your gut feeling.

I paid for everything and returned home. I went upstairs to change into some sweat pants when I felt I should go ahead and call my 80-year-old friend, Audrey, who lives in Fredericksburg. We talk each day for 45 minutes to an hour. I like to check on her in the middle of the day. So I sat down on the bed upstairs in my T–shirt and underwear and called.

I had been on the cordless phone with her for about 20 minutes when I felt the house begin to tremble and I heard a rumble. My first thought was, “Damn washing machine! Wait . . . I’m not washing clothes! It must be an airplane crashing. My, that’s an awfully elongated crash sound for an airplane. Oh my God we’re having an earthquake!!!”

“Audrey, we’re having and earthquake!”

She said, “What?” several times. She has hearing aids. I kept repeating it and then about eight to 10 seconds later, she started yelling, “Oh, my God! Oh my God!” I told her again we were having an earthquake.

It was difficult to sit up on the bed, and then I tried running down the stairs, which seemed to take forever. Trying to get down the stairs was like trying to go down an upward-moving escalator. The back door is at the base of the steps and I finally made it outside as the earthquake was starting to subside. I know for a fact I must have looked like a panicked Lucille Ball standing on that deck grabbing my heart and saying over and over “Oh, my Gad!” in my underwear. Always wear clean underwear!

I kept asking Audrey if she were OK. She was yelling as pictures were falling and pieces of her good china quickly became casualties. She was just as flabbergasted as I was. Thank goodness her son had stopped by and he was next door at her neighbor’s. I waited for him to return to the house to be with her and then we hung up.

My neighbor then strolled out of her house and wanted to know, “What the hell was that?!” I told her it was an earthquake, and then she and I stood in the yard a few minutes, I still in my underwear. I had been relieved at first that it was over, but then the thought of aftershocks came to mind. I made a quick walk around the house (in my underwear) to make sure it was sitting OK on the foundation. The house, at first glance, looked unscathed.

I decided I should run in and turn the water and much of the electric off and get my sweat pants. I did that and then quickly ran back outside. Then I knew my husband needed his medicine and I, my purse. I ran back in for these items, literally running each time. Then I thought “Oh, my God!! The power plant!!” I ran back in for the radio and sat it on the deck and turned it to WFLS, seriously.

My last trip was in self-preservation. I ran in one more time for the bottle of wine, a cork screw and a jelly jar glass. About that time, my youngest son drove up as I was working the corkscrew and asked if I were OK. I replied with tears in my eyes “I will be in a minute!”

As I sat there listening to the radio for information on North Anna, I heard my neighbor start up his lawn mower and begin cutting grass! WE JUST HAD AN EARTHQUAKE, PEOPLE!!! At least the guys on the radio seemed to be “shaken” by it. They kept reassuring the public that they would sit tight and continue to keep their listeners updated although this was their first time as well. I found listening to them to be somewhat comforting because I knew we were all in this together.

Thank goodness eight years ago after the 4.0 tremor we had then, my husband asked “Do we have earthquake insurance?” I called the insurance company. No, we did not. For about $60 a year, my gut feeling told me to add it to our homeowner’s policy. I don’t understand why so many didn’t.

For months after the earthquake and even now, when I hear a low rumble of any sort, immediately I’m thrown right back to that day.

—Diane Ritchie, Orange


R. Barry Ashby of Spotsylvania spent the quake clinging to a china cabinet to keep it from smashing to the floor.

Because I was on a business trip in Monterey, Calif., and experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1998, I thought I was prepared. Actually, precisely at quake time, I was “holding down the throne” as they say, due to food poisoning caused by a bad oyster, allowing me great opportunities to gain understanding about various forms of “quaking.”

So I was walking from the kitchen through the dining room when the shaking began last August and knew immediately what was happening. I yelled to my wife what it was and suggested to just stay away from the windows.

Then I saw the breakfront we have filled with crystal goblets and heirloom china. It is an enormous, two-piece, heavy piece of pecan furniture with glass doors and shelves. The top cabinet was beginning to walk all over the bottom part and they were vibrating at different rhythms so that the top was dancing sideways along the wall while the bottom bounced up and down.

I spent the entire “shake time” holding that top cabinet against the wall and trying to keep it mostly centered over the gyrating bottom cabinet. It turns out that my extensive quaking experience and our enormous good fortune all paid off—not a single item was broken or damaged at our house. Not so for a neighbor whose wall-hung collection of antique clocks was destroyed as they crashed to the floor.

—R. Barry Ashby, Spotsylvania


My husband and I were in Culpeper when the quake struck. I was about to enter my doctor’s office through their automatic doors when I got the “bum’s rush” as the nurses came running outside and pushed me back. Their building is right next to Culpeper Hospital’s helicopter pad, and when they heard the loud noise and felt the building shake, they thought the ’copter had crashed into the building.

I don’t think I felt anything, just thought that their door was really noisy—and were they in a hurry to go to lunch? My husband, who was sitting in our car, thought someone was jumping up and down on the rear bumper; he got out, ready to confront whoever the fool was that was messing with his car! Then we started seeing many many people coming out of their homes and offices, everyone looking around and sort of joking—“Maybe it was an earthquake.”

We found out for sure while listening to the radio as we later drove to our home at Lake Anna, just 10 miles outside of Mineral. Luckily, only one object fell and broke in our home, though all the pictures on the walls were cock-eyed. Evidently our two dogs and cat weren’t fazed at all by the experience.

We really feel for the people whose homes received a lot of damage—one couple we know lives on Yanceyville Road, right near the epicenter, and their century-old house lost its chimneys, a lot of plaster and multiple objects broken. Thankfully, no one was injured. Friends and family around the country were quick to check on us by phone and email—and we were happy to say that we were OK.

—Pat and Ed Mitchell, Mineral


I was in Battlefield Restaurant. At first, I thought an airplane was landing on the restaurant.

—Doris Gouldman, Stafford


The earthquake that shook Virginia last year was definitely a shocker and nerve-racking. My grandson and I were home alone while my husband and two daughters were at work. The house shook, and the decorations on the walls and shelves began to tumble over onto the floor. I remember my grandson running to me with a scared face and asking me what was happening. At this point, I thought that maybe it was a big training blast at a military base or the Spotsylvania stone quarry because sometimes we can feel and hear those. But after a little while, I knew that this was different. And only after it was all over did I realize it was an earthquake!

My daughter who works at the Stafford Hospital called maybe 10 minutes after the earthquake, stating that she had been trying to get in contact with us for the longest time, but the cell phone lines were not going through because everyone was trying to reach their loved ones to make sure that they were safe. I spoke with her and let my grandson speak to her for a little so she knew that he was safe and comforted since that was his first earthquake experience and hers as well.

I tried to get in contact with my husband and my other daughter and was unsuccessful at first. After awhile, my husband did call and stated that he was working on some heavy construction equipment at the time and it was scary, but he was safe and on his way home. It took me a very long time to get in contact with my daughter who was at work in D.C., but her friend let her use a phone that actually had service to call home.

While I was trying to get in contact with my family, I had turned on the TV and it was across the news that the area had just experienced an earthquake. The aftershock experience was scary as well because at this point you didn’t know what was actually going to happen, but you just knew that you had encountered a very scary earthquake. I am sure everyone is wondering if we will be experiencing anymore earthquakes or aftershocks—guess we will see! Just be safe and enjoy each and every day!

—Erika Hilliard, Spotsylvania

My experience with the earthquake was relatively minor. It was roughly 1:30 p.m. as I was finishing lunch when it began. I live in a mobile home. At first, I thought it was a test firing at Dahlgren, as we occasionally feel them. Then, I realized the movement was vertical. A few things were dislodged from shelves. Otherwise, no problems.  Having been in an earthquake before, I understood.

In 1943 or ’44, I was in Puerto Rico, stationed at Borinquen Field on the northwest corner of the island. I’d just turned in when it struck. I heard this commotion: “Earthquake!” I started to get up, could only find one shoe, checked the ceiling with my flashlight — no cracks — said, ‘The heck with it,’ and went back to sleep.  I learned later the biggest chow hound in our outfit ran out of the mess hall, so it must’ve been a shock.

Aquadilla, the town nearest us, had suffered much damage many years before as it is built around a bay and the earthquake-induced wave swept ashore, crushing houses.

–Manuel R. Cizek, King George

When the recent earthquake involving Stafford occurred, I was on the sixth hole green of the Aquia Harbor Golf Course.  At first the woods, trees and leaves shook loudly.  I thought that the loud noise and shaking was from Quantico helicopters overhead at a low height.  Then the golf green began vibrating.  Although this was my first experience with an earthquake, I soon realized it was the only thing it could be.  I view it as an interesting experience and education for future quakes.  Maybe it was a reflection of my golfing that day, but I’ll always remember it when I get to the sixth hole.
–Dave Stumpf, Stafford
My friend, her daughter,18-month-old granddaughter and I were at a restaurant 
on 610 in Garrisonville. Near us  was a table with three families having a “back to school next week” lunch. As we had entered the restaurant, there was a huge delivery truck at the back.  When the quake hit, my first thought was that the driver had hit the building.
Suddenly, one of the mothers jumped up , grabbed her purse and ran to the front door–sans her children.  (She did turn around and come back to the table).  We were gobsmacked! Almost immediately, the restaurant TV had earthquake information on screen, phones rang until service was flooded.  We scurried to the car and home to see about damages, all the while talking about the mother with the purse and without the kids. ( We kept our kid and our purses).
 – Marilee Meek

During the morning of the earthquake I was on my way from my home near Spotsylvania Courthouse to Fork Union, Va., to look at a non-running 1974 VW bug that was for sale.  As I came up on the bridge for Lake Anna, I noticed the all-too-familiar stop light system that provided for alternate flows of traffic over the span that links Spotsylvania County and Louisa County.  As anyone in that area was aware of, repair construction on that span had been ongoing at this point for what seemed like a couple of years.  While waiting for my direction’s turn I thought to myself, “Why is this construction taking so long?  They had an earthquake in San Francisco and had the Golden Gate Bridge repaired in less than six months.  We haven’t had no earthquake.”  Seriously, that is what I thought!

I proceeded in my journey to Fork Union where I looked at the VW Bug that had been sitting about five years under the same tree and needing repair.  I did my bargaining with the owner and arranged for a tow truck to pick up the car that afternoon and bring it to my Spotsylvania home.  On the way back, I had just turned on to Route 208 off of Route 522 between Louisa and Mineral and was perhaps a mile down the road when the front end of my newly purchased 12-year-old pickup truck started to have what felt like steering issues.

At first I thought I had hit a dip in the road.  A quick glimpse in the mirror showed good road.  I put my concern back on getting the front end checked and continued on cautiously.  In what seemed like no time, I was back to the light at the Lake Anna Bridge.   I noticed the workers on the bridge just standing there.  They were just standing there doing nothing but looking around!  I thought to myself “No wonder they can’t get this bridge finished,. They are just standing there doing nothing!!”

Now I am almost home.  I turned on the radio and almost immediately heard a local station announcer say something like “The big news around here is an earthquake that hit the Fredericksburg area.” My first thought was to the one that hit our area in 2003.  It had the intensity that may have rippled a bowl of Jell-O.  I thought perhaps we had another of those.

I pulled into the subdivision where I lived and drove up to the mailbox to check mail.  Unbeknownst to me, my wife saw me casually get out of the truck and check the mail and then get back into the truck.  She had been frantically trying to call me on the cell phone, but the lines had been jammed.  I drove around and parked the truck in our rear driveway and walked around towards the front of the house.  She met me half way.

“Are you oblivious to what happened?” she yelled.

“Oh, do  you mean the earthquake?” I replied rather calmly.

“Yes!!” was her still panicky reply.

“Why, did you feel it?” was my curious query.

“Did I feel it?  I thought the whole house was going to fall down!!”

Then I said something I shouldn’t have.  “Darn it, I missed it!!”  We then had a reassuring hug that we were both OK.

Oh, the VW?  The tow truck driver delivered it safe that afternoon.  Having bought it on the day of the quake it deserved the license plates it now proudly displays.  See the picture I attached?

Jack Batt’s VW bug, purchased the day of the quake, bears plates commemorating the experience.

 – John L. “Jack” Batt,  Spotsylvania

I was resting comfortably in my recliner, dosing into slumber time.

Suddenly, without knowing what was happening, my chair went into decline.

As I was waking, my blinds were swinging to and fro.

I pondered for a moment, should we stay here or find another place to go?

The sun was shining and the sky was blue when I looked out the door to see what I needed to do.

The lines on the power poles were swinging back and forth, and the car had settled down.

By then I realized, a quake had come to town.

I ran to the bedroom as my wife sat straight up in bed and yelled, “What in the heck was that?”

I then surmised that not even an earthquake was going to move her from where she was at.

She said the bed had moved several inches or more but was glad she didn’t end up on the floor.

So I quickly checked things over here and there . . . then quietly went to the bathroom to change

my underwear.

As things began to settle down, I thought to myself, if this happens again, “What would I do?” 

I mean the most surprising things can happen right out of the blue. 

–Wayne Dove, Spotsylvania


I was babysitting my 2 1/2-year-old grandson.  I walked upstairs, leaving him on the carpet with his toys, and as I turned to come out of the room, everything was moving or groaning, and this awful noise of a plane coming closer. I am trying to run down the hall so I can get down all those stairs.   I remember he stood up as I was coming to the end of the stairs and grabbing him,  his little face questioning what was happening.

I ran out the front door and into the front yard, praying out loud for God to save us from the plane crash. As I fell to the ground and felt the grass and waited, nothing happened–just the quiet and the cars traveling on Plank Road. I remember crying and thanking God that there was no plane, but what was it?  Then I realized that we had just had an earthquake.  As I tried in vain to reach family members, my little grandson said, “Nana, is house shaking?” Occasionally, he will still ask one of us when we hear big planes go over,  ”Is  the house going to shake again?”

— Diane Grimes, Spotsylvania

My son is from Fredericksburg, and I live in Culpeper. My husband was in the nursing home, and he was dying of lung cancer. He died that day. That morning, I talked to him, and I knew he knew what I was saying. They were very sentimental things that I was saying, and I said, “If you understand what I’m saying, squeeze my hand,” and he squeezed my hand.

I was sitting on a bed across from him, and my son was standing near the door. All of a sudden, the room felt like it was coming apart. I had no idea, even though I’d lived in California, that it was an earthquake. My son said, “Mom, I think we’re having an earthquake. Get in the doorway.”

Well, I froze. I didn’t get in the doorway. I looked out the window at the building parallel to us, and I could see the building shaking. I thought it would never stop.

I walked over to my husband’s bed. He was a retired Marine with three purple hearts and a bronze star. I said, “I knew you wouldn’t leave this world without creating a little havoc.” He left this world with a big bang.

—Joyce Young, Culpeper


Edie Gross: 540/374-5428