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Area Braces for ‘Earth, Wind’ One-Two Punch: Irene Following on Earthquake

Officials Call for Preparedness as Hurricane Looms

With a strengthening Hurricane Irene still tracking as of press time toward this region, due to arrive Saturday, Tuesday’s major earthquake is being treated by area officials as a wake-up call to citizens to be prepared.

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PATIENTS, INCLUDING ON hospital beds, and doctors, nurses and staffers at the Falls Church-based Kaiser Permanente Clinic evacuated the facility in the moments after Tuesday afternoon’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the entire region. No injuries or serious damage reported, but now a hurricane is headed our way. (Photo: News-Press)
Officials Call for Preparedness as Hurricane Looms

With a strengthening Hurricane Irene still tracking as of press time toward this region, due to arrive Saturday, Tuesday’s major earthquake is being treated by area officials as a wake-up call to citizens to be prepared.

In a development reported late yesterday, Falls Church officials confirmed damage from the earthquake to the chimney of the City’s historic Cherry Hill Farmhouse, although they also determined the core structure of the building is intact, and will remain open to the public.

Concerning the coming storm, Virginia Senate majority leader Dick Saslaw, the City of Falls Church’s Senate representative in Richmond, issued a statement yesterday, saying “households should be ready for heavy rain, strong winds, and the possibility of losing power. He counseled constituents to take three steps: 1. make a disaster kit, 2. create a plan to stay safe and evacuate if necessary, and 3. stay informed.

A statement from the Falls Church public information office included a concern for flooding in low-lying areas on Saturday through Sunday. The City, is says, “has begun checking equipment and supply readiness in preparation for potential severe weather.”

Irene is the first hurricane of the season, and the first in three years to track directly toward the U.S. eastern seaboard. Alarms sounded more loudly as the News-Press went to press Wednesday, with the storm continuing to gain in strength and boring in the Carolina coast.

As for Tuesday’s earthquake, that was the biggest in over a century in the eastern U.S.. Registering a powerful 5.8 on the Richter Scale, it was an entirely unexpected event that millions felt from Canada to Alabama.

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Multiple cars were hit by falling cinder blocks on Old Courthouse Road in Vienna. (Photo: Suzy Smith)

There have been no reported injuries, and no serious structural damage reported so far, although public safety advisories have urged citizens to examine their properties for chimney cracks, broken gas and fuel oil lines or tanks, and heating equipment. The Falls Church Fire Marshall called for vigilance in the examination of the “overall structure integrity” of buildings, noting in some cases “components may not show visible damage.” If there are grounds for concern, he said, “Individuals are advised to contact licensed inspectors.”

The unprecedented jolt, centered in Mineral, Va., north of Richmond, hit at 1:51 p.m. EDT on Tuesday. The News-Press staff began gathering and reporting through its web site and social media outlets information about the quake as soon as it evacuated its office on the fifth floor of the 200 Little Falls building across from the F.C. City Hall. Large cracks in the plaster lining the stairwells of the building were observed immediately.

While telephone lines were jammed, texts and tweets were getting through, and information began coming in quickly. As the event was assessed, News-Press staffers began began streaming reports outward right away. A News-Press photographer took to the road to document damage, and quickly came upon the evacuation at the nearby Kaiser Permanente clinic, including of patients in hospital beds.

Falls Church City Schools, although no classes were in session, were evacuated and closed briefly before reopening.

The City Schools’ communications office issued a statement, noting that with the first day of school looming on Sept. 6, it asked parents, “If Falls Church City Schools had been in session during the quake, where would have gone for information?” It then listed Facebook, Twitter, Google+, web, Falls Church cable TV and area TV and radio stations, emergency e-mail feeds and parent telephone information lines.

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TUESDAY’S EARTHQUAKE-inflicted damage around the area included the chimney at F.C.’s historic Cherry Hill Farmhouse. (Photo: Barbara Gordon)

Meanwhile, multiple aftershocks including a 4.2 magnitude aftershock at 8:04 p.m. Tuesday and a 3.4 at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday were confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Anecdotal accounts of “where were you when the earthquake hit” have flooded the News-Press, including interesting reports on what people thought they were experiencing at first, before concluding it was a quake.

Some thought there was an explosion in their building. Some thought their pets were fighting beneath their bed. Some, driving along Route 66, said they didn’t feel anything at all. Some concluded almost immediately it had to be an earthquake.

Falls Church will operate its low-frequency radio station at 1680 AM on the dial for updates in the event that the hurricane causes major power outages. The station can be accessed with battery-operated radios.

 

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