Earthquake Felt in Lexington; No Damage Reported on Campus

Harbor, Dave (with alumnus James Crawford '58) Post Earthquake 2011

Washington and Lee geology professor David Harbor, right, explains the seismogram of the Virginia earthquake to W&L alumnus James Crawford, of the Class of 1958.

Members of the Washington and Lee community, along with Lexington residents, experienced the Virginia-based 5.8 earthquake on Tuesday. W&L has received no reports of any injuries or damage from the event.

The quake, which was centered 82 miles from the W&L campus in Mineral, Va., struck at 1:51 p.m. with a low rumble and a rolling motion for what some observers thought lasted about 30 seconds.

Within minutes of the event, many members of the University community had made their way to the Geology Department's suite in the Science Center, where the department's two seismographs had captured the earthquake on seismograms.

"There are earthquakes in this part of the country, but they are relatively rare events," said Paul Low, a visiting assistant professor of geology at W&L. "With the preliminary estimate of a magnitude 5.8,, this would be a historic event. The largest previous earthquake in Virginia was 5.9, in 1897 in Giles County, Va."

Low noted that it will probably be one of the world's largest earthquakes this week. He added that the potential for aftershocks is small – except, perhaps, for tremors that are measurable only on instruments, but too small for people to feel.

"We're in an area that hasn't received a lot of tectonic activity for a very long time," Low said. "Even though we have faults – and this earthquake was in an area of a mapped fault – we don't have active faults or active tectonic movements. You can think about this as things settling down due to weathering, or as rivers move piles of dirt from the mountains and deposit them in the ocean."

Seismograph from August 23, 2011 Earthquake

A seismogram from the seismograph in W&L's Science Center of the 5.9 earthquake in Virginia.

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