Looking back at the East Coast earthquake two years later

August 23, 2013

A view of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in D.C. shortly after the earthquake struck. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

Two years ago today, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in central Virginia shook the East Coast.

For many, the quake was notable for being a shared cultural moment that didn’t come with the sort of tragic repercussions that usually accompany such common moments. It didn’t result in any deaths or major injuries in the D.C. area (though damage from the quake continues to impact the region). The tremors rattled D.C., just like they shook other spots up and down the East Coast and beyond, but the quake and its aftermath were not necessarily massive by global standards.

From Joel Achenbach’s story about that day:

It began with a shudder, as if a helicopter were landing nearby or perhaps someone had turned on a large piece of machinery. Within a couple of seconds, it grew into a heaving, bucking, no-doubt-about-it earthquake. It was over in less than a minute. Workers surged out of office buildings, and cellphone networks quickly clogged.

In the minutes and hours after the quake, offices across the Washington region were closed, buildings were evacuated and workers sent home. Since it felt like more of an unnerving event than a natural disaster, things quickly returned to normal and the quake became joke fodder on social media. Photos of the so-called “destruction” (fallen office supplies, overturned coffee cups and the like) spread online, and this image of a fallen lawn chair was inescapable on Twitter and Facebook after the quake.

But the quake wasn’t without an aftermath. Dozens of aftershocks continued in the months that followed. And the event caused millions of dollars in damage to the Washington National Cathedral and the Washington Monument. As a result, lengthy repairs are underway at the cathedral as well as the monument, with scaffolding encasing the monument and giving it a very different appearance.

We asked people for their memories from that day. Here are some of the responses:

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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