Earthquake jars buildings and nerves at Martha’s Vineyard

— Photo courtesy of USGS

Updated Tuesday, 5:10 pm

The United States Geological Service (USGS) reported an earthquake struck at approximately 1:51 pm southwest of Washington, DC, with the epicenter placed 39 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia. The earthquake measured 5.9 on the Richter Scale and was a half mile deep.

The earthquake sent tremors from the nation’s capital to New York City and was felt as far north as Concord, N.H, according to the New York Times. There were no immediate reports of damage.

President Obama held a conference call with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and many other key officials. He was told there are no initial reports of major damage.

The New York Times reported that thousands of people evacuated buildings from the Capitol to the White House.

On Martha’s Vineyard, the reactions were more muted. President Obama was on the Farm Neck Golf course in Oak Bluffs when the quake struck. There was no report from the pool of reporters assigned to cover the president if the tremors affected his golf game.

Later, after President Obama had returned to Blue Heron Farm, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, said, “The president didn’t feel the earthquake today.”

Oak Bluffs town hall municipal employees reported they felt the building shake and went on with their work.

Workers at Jampel Realty office in Vineyard Haven were on the phone placing an order at The Net Result fish market when the trembling began. Beth Larsen, Net Result co-owner, said the caller asked if she had felt her building shake.

Employees at The Martha’s Vineyard Times on Beach Road felt the building shake and walked out to see if a piece of heavy equipment being used in an adjoining lot had accidentally struck the two-story, wood building.

Earthquakes in New England are rare but not unknown. On Sunday May 15, seismologists at the Weston Observatory at Boston College detected two small earthquakes in an area between Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford. A magnitude 2.1 quake struck at 8:39 pm followed by a smaller 1.3 shake at 8:46 pm.

The Observatory operates the New England Seismic Network (NESN), a network of broadband seismometers distributed throughout the New England states that monitor earthquakes in New England.

The Weston Observatory placed the center of the May quake on a map of seismic activity 14 miles west of Vineyard Haven and 15 miles south, southeast of New Bedford at the western end of the Elizabeth Islands in the immediate vicinity of Nashawena Island.

Newspapers throughout the Southeastern Massachusetts region said that people reported feeling the tremors, and that there was no damage.

According to the observatory’s historical atlas, the last significant earthquake in New England was a category 5.5 templor in central New Hampshire on December 20, 1940.

The last major earthquake in Massachusetts was a magnitude 6.2 earthquake, at 4:12 amon November 18, 1755, about 34 miles southwest of Cape Ann.

The effects of that quake were strongest on infilled land near the wharves, according to the Weston Observatory.

“About 100 chimneys were thrown down, and as many as 1,500 others were damaged. Walls of several brick buildings fell. Stone fences fell throughout the countryside. Springs formed or stopped. In eastern Massachusetts, ground cracks opened; some emitted sand and water. Aftershocks were reported. Shaking was felt from Nova Scotia to Maryland, and from New York State to a ship 200 miles at sea. Those aboard the ship thought it had run aground.”