Region rebounds from big quake
Two years after Virginia’s second-largest earthquake, aftershocks are a fading memory as most of the damage in and around the Fredericksburg area has been repaired.
But from Louisa County to Washington, D.C., the impact of the magnitude-5.8 quake lingers as work continues on schools, public buildings and monuments.
In the nation’s capital, repair work continues on the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument, still shrouded in scaffolding to repair stones damaged by the quake’s vibration.
Situated less than six miles from the epicenter, the town of Mineral was among the first communities hit. Two years later, only a handful of significant repair projects remain.
Vice Mayor Bernice Wilson–Kube said that the town’s brick buildings and chimneys sustained the most damage, along with porches. The old town hall, formerly the Bank of Louisa, was among the worst damaged.
Wilson–Kube, who lives near a railroad line, said that she originally thought the quake was a passing train, though she couldn’t hear the whistle.
“We still feel the aftershocks,” she said. “If you don’t hear the train whistle, you remember [the earthquake].”
Mike Leman, owner of Main Street Supply, said that damage from continuing aftershocks is still appearing around town.
Originally, Leman’s store sustained major damage to its front exterior wall, which he quickly repaired. Now, he sees cracks in the walls that weren’t there before.
“We’re finding more stuff now that the buildings are settling,” Leman said.
While other areas made jokes about the quake, Wilson–Kube said the floors in her historic home were visibly moving.
As part of Louisa County, Mineral’s residents also take part in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Great SouthEast ShakeOut!, an annual earthquake preparedness drill.
Wilson–Kube said town residents rallied after the quake and continue to work together.
LOUISA COUNTY REBUILDS
Extensive and irreparable damages forced the county to demolish two schools, Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Louisa County High. To accommodate more than 1,000 students, the county moved them to other schools before bringing in mobile units.
“When they get inside those classrooms, it’s business as usual,” said Superintendent Deborah Pettit. “It hasn’t really slowed down our educational program.”
Aftershocks didn’t deter the school division from rebuilding, either. The community gathered Wednesday night in Louisa with Rep. Eric Cantor, R–7th District, to break ground for a new high school to replace the one wrecked by the quake.
“It has been two years, but when I think about how much we’ve really accomplished with the schools,” Pettit said, “that’s a short amount of time to have gotten that accomplished.”
The timing of groundbreaking around the two-year anniversary was a coincidence, Pettit said. The county began work on the new elementary in October 2012.
Cantor called the county’s rebound a “silver lining” in the wake of the disaster.
“This progress really reflects a real grit and strong spirit of the county’s people to solve the problems,” he said. “Parents and citizens of Louisa really pulled together to put the kids first.”
Plans for the new high school were modeled after Mountain View High School in Stafford County and adjusted for Louisa’s needs. It is projected to open in August 2015.
VACANT LOT IN CULPEPER
Though it was about 37 miles from the quake epicenter, Culpeper sustained significant damage.
U.S. Geological Survey officials say pockets of damage away from epicenters are not that unusual because energy can be focused to distant spots.
An empty hole on the west side of North Main Street is Culpeper’s most vivid reminder of the 2011 earthquake.
The Civil War-era brick building that stood here was so severely damaged that it was demolished by order of the county building inspector when its front façade cracked and was leaning toward the sidewalk.
Now an unimproved empty lot is all that remains of what was known as the Ritz Hi–Hat Restaurant building.
The adjoining sandwich shop, originally built from an alleyway, was repaired and reopened last spring under new management.
Two other nearby brick structures have been repaired as have façades on Davis and East Street buildings. Repairs to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church were completed in 2012.
The Culpeper Christian Assembly Building (formerly owned by C&P Telephone) was the last Culpeper structure to be repaired. After sitting idle for a year, Ron and Melody Frazier began remodeling the 1920s-era brick building in the fall of 2012. An open house was held there last Sunday.
AREA DAMAGE REPAIRED
More than two-dozen houses, businesses, churches and public buildings were damaged in Fredericksburg and had to be repaired. The damage ranged from cosmetic to cracked walls and other structural damage.
Among those sites affected: City Museum (Old Town Hall), the Circuit and General District courthouses, FRED Transit, Fire Station 1, City Hall, the Old Stone Warehouse and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters.
A few miles away in Spotsylvania County, the V. Earl Dickinson Building at Germanna Community College’s Fredericksburg campus was heavily damaged and closed for repairs. It reopened earlier this year.
Stafford, Orange and Caroline counties weren’t unscathed: Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in those jurisdictions to repair public and private buildings.
NORTH ANNA PLANS AHEAD
One immediate concern after the earthquake was its impact on the North Anna Power Station on Lake Anna, about 11 miles from the epicenter. The quake knocked both nuclear reactors offline—the first time ever at one of the nation’s 100 commercial reactors.
The reactors were idle for 81 days as inspectors with Dominion Power and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission assessed the damage. They determined that the plant had no significant damage to safety or operating equipment, though the ground motion during the quake briefly exceeded the plant’s design limit.
In the months since the Virginia earthquake, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that severely damaged reactors at the Fukushima Dai–ichi plant in March 2011, the NRC has required plants in the United States to update their seismic models to implement a checklist of long-term actions.
Earlier this month, the independent Electric Power Research Institute presented an updated ground-motion model to the NRC. Nuclear power plants in the central and eastern United States will use them to re-evaluate their earthquake hazard as part of the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.
North Anna submitted its list of improvements and long-term plans related to the Virginia earthquake to the NRC in May. New seismic instruments were installed in Unit 1’s reactor containment building and control room, and a free-standing seismic monitor was installed outside.
Reporter Donnie Johnston contributed to this story.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431