Mineral, Va., epicenter of earthquake, gets its 15 minutes of fame

August 23, 2011

As you enter Mineral, a welcome sign reads, “Mineral, Va., An Early Mining Town” — a polite reference to the fact that miners abandoned it to join the Gold Rush in California and never looked back.

But now Mineral has a new claim to fame: epicenter of one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the East Coast in a century.

On CNN, the news out of Mineral, a town of less than 500 people about 80 miles southwest of Washington, vied for eyeballs with live footage of fighting inside Moammar Gaddafi’s compound in Libya. (Hurricane Irene, get back to us when you’ve toppled a few more trees.)

The 5.8 quake was historic, yes, and shook people from New England to the Deep South. But it was not deadly, not even in Mineral, where the quake caused minor injuries and did no damage to two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station.

Even so, the temblor was the biggest thing to happen in Mineral in, well, a century.

“Nothing happens here. Nothing. I’m serious,” said Mike Leman, owner of Main Street Plumbing and Electrical Supply Co., who moved here from Philadelphia 17 years ago. “This is a shocker for all of us.”

Those in town were consumed with the immediate fallout. Leman estimated damage at his store at $100,000, which he is not sure how he will pay for. He doesn’t have earthquake insurance.

Major public buildings were also in need of major repair. A wall of the red-brick ranch-style post office was bulging out to the side. The “t” in “United” was missing. Piles of rubble at the Town Hall and the Calvary Chapel of Louisa were cordoned off by police tape. At the Department of Motor Vehicles, a sign read, “Unknown when re-opening.”

“We’re quite busy today getting things back in order. I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet how big it is in terms of that kind of attention,” said Willie L. Harper, who represents Mineral on the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.

The kind of attention Harper is most interested in is the governor’s. He hopes Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) will declare Mineral a natural-disaster area so the town can get funds for repairs.

Mineral’s exiles, however, not bogged down by the same immediate concerns, were enjoying the town’s newfound fame.

“Mineral is trending,” tweeted one former resident who uses the handle CourtneyDee. “Hahaha, that’s my town!”

Michelle Groome, 52, a therapist who lives across the street from the volunteer rescue squad building, said relatives have been calling from as far away as Texas, asking if she is all right.

She said news crews, national as well as local, have been traveling up and down Mineral Avenue — the town’s main thoroughfare — assessing the damage. Accordingly, her relatives have been hearing the name “Mineral” all day.

“They see it on television or hear about this huge one in Mineral, Virginia — which nobody in the world has ever heard of, except I live there,” Groome said.

Rebecca Burlage, Groome’s sister, said that she travels frequently and that “people always say, ‘Where is Mineral?’ ”

“Now they know,” she said. “It’s on the map.”

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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