Arik Hesseldahl

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Earthquake Rattles Virginia, D.C. and New York; Wireless Networks Affected

An earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale and centered in Virginia has rattled the East Coast of the United States and the nerves of residents of New York City and Washington, D.C., who aren’t accustomed to the shaking of the ground.

There are no reports of damage as yet, but it appears that cellular networks are affected by one of two things: Either they’re being overwhelmed by people making calls to talk about the quake and let loved ones know they’re okay, or because of some other disruption.

Californians accustomed to this sort of thing will likely roll their eyes at all the drama for a paltry 5.9, but for New Yorkers this is something new.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a nuclear power plant in central Virginia has lost offsite power. However, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the reactors are safe.

Reports and tweets say that various aspects of wireless service are up or down. One minute voice calls are down, but texting and data still works, and then only data works. Here are a few, all only a few minutes old:

I really wish my phone would start to work already, @. If you can’t handle a minor earthquake, how’re you gonna handle a real emergency?
Josh Burnett

RT @: There goes the ATT network. *sigh* #earthquake
Robert Peterson

#earthquake — didn’t feel a thing thankfully, but Verizon calls are going nowhere at the moment
Marissa Lippert

#EarthQuake: T-Mobile Cell coverage is down in Tysons Corner, VA

Its gonna be a major earthquake in sprint in about 15 min if my phone still aint workn
Skateboard Dee

Heard that mobile service was impacted from #earthquake. @ users: is this quake related or just Tuesday?
Tim K

Web traffic doesn’t seem to be spiking in any significant way based on this Akamai realtime Web monitor. There’s a small area glowing red in the northeast, but its hard to know if that’s above normal.

I just heard on the local NBC affiliate that some of the airports in the region are closing temporarily, including New York’s JFK and Reagan National in DC.

Here’s a Tweet from Verizon spokesman John O’Malley:

No reports of damage to #Verizon Wireless network. Was some network congestion in the East after tremors. Continuing to monitor. #earthquake
John O’Malley

Here’s a statement from Sprint:

Customers in East may experience intermittent delay making/receiving calls after recent earthquake. This is a temporary mass calling event.

And one from T-Mobile:

T-Mobile’s network is operational but is experiencing higher call volumes in areas affected by the earthquake. SMS & E-Mail are advised.
T-Mobile USA

I’m seeing reports of various places that were evacuated: The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon was evacuated. I heard on local media reports that New York’s City Hall was evacuated. I heard the Town Hall in Huntington, Long Island was evacuated. The AP just sent two alerts saying that the National Weather says no tsunami is expected following the quake. Additionally, it reports that the National Park Service has closed all monuments and memorials on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

I happen to be out on the East End of Long Island, and I can tell you that we felt it slightly here. I was sitting at my desk working on a post when I felt my chair sway slightly for what seemed like a good 30 seconds or so.

The U.S. Geological Survey just sent an updated report. You can subscribe to them via email here.


Geographic coordinates: 37.881N, 77.952W
Magnitude: 5.9 Mw
Depth: 0 km
Universal Time (UTC): 23 Aug 2011 17:51:04
Time near the Epicenter: 23 Aug 2011 13:51:04
Local standard time in your area: 23 Aug 2011 12:51:04

Location with respect to nearby cities:
14 km (9 miles) SSW (195 degrees) of Mineral, VA
17 km (10 miles) SSE (165 degrees) of Louisa, VA
23 km (14 miles) NE (52 degrees) of Columbia, VA
58 km (36 miles) NW (312 degrees) of Richmond, VA
141 km (88 miles) SW (216 degrees) of Washington, DC

And if all that weren’t enough, there’s Hurricane Irene, which is making its way up the East Coast and expected to affect the Washington DC and New York areas by Sunday.

The New York Times is quoting Dr. Arthur Lener-Lam of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Division of Seismology, saying the area of Virginia where the quake was centered is known for what he calls “geologically old faults,” and is known for frequent small quakes.

UPDATE: In a statement, wireless industry group CTIA reported: “The industry’s infrastructure appears to be intact, but because many wireless consumers are using the networks, we are experiencing higher than normal traffic. In these high volume instances, there can be delays. We encourage people to send text messages and emails to contact their loved ones until volume returns to normal.”

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