Rare earthquake rattles nerves at UMES

  • Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    PRINCESS ANNE - (Aug. 23, 2011) - An earthquake that struck the mid-Atlantic region at 1:51 p.m. Tuesday caused buildings on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to shake uncharacteristically, but no one was injured and no major structural damage was reported.

    Startled employees across campus temporarily vacated their offices, nervous and unsure whether the tremors were a natural phenomenon or from an explosion. People in second and third floor offices reported window blinds wobbling and walls and floors vibrating noticeably. Reports rank the magnitude 5.8 quake as among the most intense along the East Coast in more than 60 years.

    Classes for undergraduates do not begin at UMES until Aug. 31, but graduate students in the pharmacy school were on campus at the time.

    Warner Sumpter, UMES' Director of Public Safety, said the campus felt attention-grabbing tremors emanating from an epicenter in Mineral, Va., between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, Va. roughly 130 miles west of the UMES campus .

    Sumpter said he was in contact with Somerset County's emergency services office and heard no reports of problems in the area. "I'm not aware of any major disruptions," he said.

    Earthquakes are rare on the Delmarva Peninsula, a mostly sandy formation of land between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Because  much of the peninsula lacks dense rock, there was less of a threat of serious structural damage.

    While attention grabbing, Tuesday's quake was mild compared to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which was a magnitude 7.0. The Japanese earthquake earlier this year that triggered a tsunami was an astounding magnitude 9.0

    Earth science professor Nianhong Chen, a visiting lecturer in UMES' Department of Natural Sciences, grew up in eastern China and knows first-hand what major earthquake are. Tuesday's tremors surprised him as it did his colleagues.

    "I knew right away what it was," Chen said. "Fortunately, it did not last long."

    UMES this year is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding on Sept. 13,1886 -- which was just two weeks after an (estimated) magnitude 7.3 earthquake heavily damaged the historic port city of Charleston, S.C.

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    Bill Robinson, director, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-621-2355, wrobinson3@umes.edu.