Low magnitude earthquake in Maryland shocks nation to its core

a keyboard with a red panic button installed

A low magnitude earthquake in Maryland vibrated the nation's capital early Friday morning, which confused residents mistook for crashing airliners and explosions. Star 5112/Flickr photo.

A mild earthquake in Maryland that jiggled the nation’s capital triggered widespread panic that probably has California residents chuckling. The D.C. earthquake caused no property damage or traffic delays, and the trains ran on time, but thousands of confused people flooded the 911 switchboard after the ground rumbled and buildings vibrated for about 10 seconds. There was no word of fighter jets scrambling or members of the executive branch being hustled to an undisclosed location.

Media feasts on mild earthquake in Maryland

The magnitude of the earthquake in Maryland was considered mild by geologists, but because it affected Washington D.C., the earthquakes effects were magnified a hundredfold by the media. MSNBC reports that the D.C. earthquake hit at 5:04 a.m. ET with a magnitude of 3.6 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was centered near Rockville, Md. The USGS said residents reported rumbling in the D.C.-area, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Washington D.C. earthquake risk

A geophysicist with the USGS wasn’t shocked by the earthquake in Maryland. Amy Vaughn told the Washington Post that the D.C. earthquake wasn’t “something completely out of the ordinary.” However she did say that quakes measuring above 3 are extremely rare in this area. According to USGS earthquake data, the quake was the largest recorded within about 45 miles of Germantown since a database was created to track such activity in 1974. As to Washington D.C. earthquake risk, the largest magnitude earthquake before Friday morning’s was a tremor  of 2.7 on the Richter scale in 1993, Vaughan said. USGS earthquake data shows there was also a 2.6 magnitude tremor in 1990 and quakes barely nudged the Richter scale at 2.5 in 1997, 1993 and 1974.

D.C. earthquake mistaken for jets, explosions

Within about two hours of the earthquake in Maryland, more than 6,700 people had reported the quake on the USGS Web site. CNN reports that some residents in and around Washington D.C. awoke Friday to what one witness said sounded like a jet about to crash outside his bedroom window. Judy Rudolph, 64, told CNN she was writing e-mails in bed in Rockville, Md., when her house started to shake. She thought the noise was an explosion. The USGS said it was possible that smaller aftershocks might hit the area but they will die out in a few days.

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