Rare East Coast earthquake rattles Greencastle


All was calm on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. That is, until 1:51 p.m. Aug. 23, when a rumble filled the air and tremors shook the ground.

That is when an earthquake hit Greencastle and Antrim Township. The epicenter was 90 miles southwest of Washington D.C. near Richmond, Va. The quake registered 5.8 on the Richter scale. It came from 3.7 miles below the surface. The primary and secondary waves that stretched from Canada to Georgia to Ohio, were stonger than typically felt on the east coast.

Most people experienced something, but others didn’t notice anything amiss. Two people in the Echo Pilot office felt the effects of the quake and two in other rooms sensed nothing out of the ordinary.

Within minutes people started calling the newspaper with the breaking story. One elderly man said he was in a chair and it began shaking. He finally decided, “This isn’t nerves.”

A young man on the road thought wind was shaking his car. A woman on Milnor Road was used to the dynamiting from Norfolk Southern’s construction project, but realized their booms had never jiggled her counter stool to make it move. With her on it.

Witnesses called officials, perhaps because of a need to just call someone. Greencastle police chief John Phillippy said several contacted his agency to ask, “What the heck was that?”

Borough manager Kenneth Womack was at his desk and his chair moved. His initial thought was an earthquake, but he and others in the municipal building then pointed to heavy-duty Madison Street construction going on right behind the wall. Maybe a vehicle had carelessly hit them. Soon a citizen called to say his house had been shaking. “Then I knew what it was,” said Womack.

At the elementary school, principal Chad Stover said the whole building shook.

“You could feel rumbling under your feet and the windows were rattling. It was definitely unique.”

Barry Zarger was outdoors painting the back wall of his plumbing store, and was oblivious to the excitement until his tenants on the second and third floors came flying down the steps. Meanwhile, other people reported thinking a train was passing.

At the G-A Chamber of Commerce, executive director Joel Fridgen saw and felt the building move back and forth. He called in his assistant, Dee Hughes. They assigned the weird event to paranormal activity.

All is well

No deaths or serious injuries were recorded anywhere on the East Coast.  Immediate news coverage showed that residents in D.C. and New York City experienced fear as they evacuated buildings, remembering the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,  2001.

Locally, residents resumed their activities after realizing there was no danger. No real damage was reported anywhere either.

Womack said the water and sewer plants were fine, though there was a ripple in the filters. Antrim administrator Brad Graham said staff couldn’t place long distance phone calls on the landlines for a while. The utility plants were unaffected, with no drop in water pressure.

Summit Health released a statement that no  patients were affected by the quake, and there was no interruption in care. The systems and structures of facilities in Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Shippensburg were checked with no problems found.

Within 45 minutes of the incident, Shippensburg University president William Ruud  emailed students to state the college did not experience any damage.

What to check

Dr. Sean Cornell, assistant professor of geography and earth science, welcomed calls from the media. He shared tips on what people should watch for in the next couple days.  The moderate to strong shaking caused only light damage, but some may not immediately be evident.

The surface wave could have caused cracks in old foundations, and in the mountains avalanches could occur, so drivers should still be especially alert on blind turns. Anyone who sees any changes to old bridges should report them to municipal authorities.

At home, the greatest risk was to well water. Cornell said people should watch for pressure variations, as it could indicate untreated natural gas or radon entering the system. If detected, they should call 911 or the fire department, which will point them to the proper officials, and then evacuate the house. Additionally, people with radon issues should ventilate the lower levels of their homes.

In the absence of more aftershocks, calm has returned to G-A, and one man is reassured about the source of the shaking.

“I’m glad it wasn’t a ghost,” said Fridgen