Millions of Americans who’d never felt an earthquake now have a story to tell — thankfully, according to reports so far, not one involving widespread destruction or death. The 5.8-magnitude temblor rattled buildings and nerves from Maine to South Carolina at 1:51 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, stunning East Coast residents for whom earthquakes are a rarity. The quake’s epicenter was in north-central Virginia, which hadn’t experienced a quake of this magnitude since 1897.
At Naval Station Norfolk, yours truly and three other reporters covering the Board of Inquiry for former Enterprise skipper Capt. Owen Honors were ensconced on the 3rd floor of the Regional Legal Service Office in an otherwise empty Courtroom 3, set aside as a filing center, during a brief recess.
I was standing next to a table when the floor started wobbling gently, then a fair bit more vigorously. We all froze and looked at each other. I’d never experienced an earthquake but when someone said, “What’s that?”, I said with an odd certainty, “That’s an earthquake.” My eyes were quickly drawn to the 125-lb. TV monitor attached to the ceiling by a thick bracket, not far vertically from the left shoulder of Hugh Lessig of the Daily Press. I joked, “I think you better move.” The bracket held.
It stopped after what seemed like 15 seconds, though it could have been longer. After a few minutes of excited chatter, it was time for the hearing to resume, so we went back to Courtroom 1. It was empty. After a couple of minutes, we collectively thought: Hmm. Maybe they’ve evacuated. So we headed down to the 1st floor. Many personnel had left the building but it hadn’t been officially cleared, so we headed into a waiting room to get the story from CNN.
The hearing resumed a short while later. The first witness was Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, whose secretary said Gortney’s telephonic testimony would have to wait a few minutes because he was “on the red phone with the NorthCom commander.”