08/24/11 — Shaking surprises most in Wayne County

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Shaking surprises most in Wayne County

By Becky Barclay,
Published in News on August 24, 2011 1:46 PM

Sitting at home watching birds eat seeds from several feeders she has outside her sliding glass doors Tuesday, Annette Taylor knew something was wrong when all of them suddenly flew away and didn't return. But it wasn't until about 10 minutes later when her home started to shake that she understood why.

"I thought I was going to fall through the floor," she said. "I was watching the glass doors to the patio to see if they were going to break they were shaking so bad."

She didn't realize it was an earthquake until a friend called her a few minutes later.

Not everybody in Wayne County felt Tuesday's 5.9 magnitude earthquake -- centered in Virginia -- as it shook desks, rattled windows and rocked cars, but like Mrs. Taylor, even those who did weren't altogether sure about what was happening. After all, earthquakes are not something common in North Carolina.

At Berkeley Veterinary Clinic, one woman thought it was a jet passing too low, while another said she just knew something had happened to her brand-new pick-up truck.

Lisa Wood, an employee at the clinic, was writing up a chart at her desk in the front office when it began to shake.

"I looked around and could see the walls shaking, too," she said. "I thought it was one of the jets because it will shake the building when they go by if they're low enough."

She turned to ask a co-worker if a jet had just gone by. That's when her co-worker told Ms. Wood no, it was an earthquake.

"I was like no it wasn't," Ms. Wood said. "She was like yes it was. I got a little scared. I prayed a little bit, too."

Her co-worker, Deanna Allen, a veterinary assistant, was sitting in her truck in the parking lot waiting for someone to back out of the space she usually parks in.

"All of a sudden, my truck's rocking then going from side to side," she said. "So I put it in park. At first I thought it was my brakes. But then when it was going from side to side, I had no clue what it was."

Ms. Allen had a bad feeling that something was wrong with the brand new truck she had had less than a week.

Ms. Allen didn't find out until she walked into the veterinary clinic that it was an earthquake.

"Then I thought everybody better get ready because the good Lord's coming when you have earthquakes and a hurricane on the way."

Others, though, thought maybe it was somebody shaking their desk or table, or that the vibrations were from a train or truck passing.

James Brigham, a floor manager at Lowes, was at work when he felt the familiar sensation of the earth moving. However, he said it happened so fast that he didn't have time to be nervous.

"I was working with a customer and at first we felt a real light vibration in the floor and a little bit of shaking above in the top of the building -- real, real slight," he said. "But it rumbled on for about 40 or 45 seconds.

"I have a taste of it before. I am from California. At first I thought it was the train and then I realized there was no train noise. I don't think a lot of people noticed it. Some people in the back of the warehouse did, but most people on the floor didn't. It was real slight."

Gene Smith and his son, Ryan, 27, were at the home of his father-in-law, Paul Johnson.

"My son was over eating lunch," he said. "I reckon it was about 1:52 and I felt this shaking. He looked at me and said, 'Quit kicking on my chair.' I said, 'What do you mean kicking? I'm not kicking your chair.' He looked and saw my feet flat on the floor then he looked on the table and saw the water in the goldfish bowl shake.

"Usually trucks ride up and down the road in front of the house, tractor-trailers rigs, and you can feel some vibrations. There were no trucks. There were no cars. This was a little more. It was different. The windows weren't shaking, but it was a little more than what a truck would normally do when it goes by."

Smith said he turned on television and learned about the earthquake.

Some people even wondered if a plane had crashed or if there had been an explosion of some kind.

At Lenscrafters in Berkeley Mall, employee Chris Sassone was at the counter at the front desk.

"I heard a rumbling that came from the back of the store going across," he said. "I felt the floor roll and the counter shift. And my chair started moving up and down."

At first, Sassone and his fellow employees thought there had been an explosion outside the mall.

"Being from California, I realized the rolling meant an earthquake," Sassone said. "I said, 'Guys, this is an earthquake.'"

Posters inside the business and advertisements hanging from the ceiling were swinging back and forth.

Sassone said it lasted for a good 15 to 20 seconds.

"I never thought I'd experience an earthquake here in North Carolina," he said. "It was an experience."

Sassone said after the shock of realizing it was truly an earthquake wore off, then he began to recall what you're supposed to do during one.

"Then I thought, should I get under the table," he said. "But by that time, it had passed. It was one of those things that you're watching everything shake, but you have to remember all those things that you're supposed to do, instead of being in shock.

"But the initial shock was that I'm in North Carolina; this couldn't possibly be an earthquake. Then realizing that hey, I've go to do something. It was comical at the same time."

For county Commission Chairman J.D. Evans those first few moments were anything but comical, though.

"The house actually moved. There is no doubt about that. I saw that with these eyes. I saw my house move. I actually saw that. I didn't know what was happening. I got out of my chair and went to the window to see if the train was passing by."

Evans said the experience left him uneasy.

"I thought maybe I was getting sick," he said. "I really did because I had never experienced anything like that before. It was only momentarily, but it was sort of like you are feeling dizzy, a little giddy."

At Meadow Lane Elementary School, new principal Debbie Ogburn was meeting with her instructional assistants in the school's media center.

"We all kind of looked at each other like, did y'all feel that or was it just us?" she said. "I got up and looked to see if a truck had hit the building."

But while people quickly realized that they were safe here, concerns remained for friends and family living in Virginia -- especially as cell phone networks jammed up as thousands of texts and calls began flying at once.

Target employee Wendy Stacks said her sister, who lives in Virginia, works at the Department of Defense in Washington D.C., where "they evacuated everybody."

Mary Neely, assets protection team leader, also has family in Virginia -- a son who lives near Williamsburg.

"He was typing at the computer and thought a freight train was coming through," she said. "He said the house has cracks in the walls from the floor to the ceiling and of course, he had no earthquake insurance."

Here, though, said Mel Powers, county emergency management and security director, there were no reports of damage -- just lots of confused and rattled residents.

"About the first five minutes, we were inundated with phone calls -- cell phones, office phones, 911. I think that was probably a new experience for a lot of folks here in Wayne County. We had a lot of curious phone calls, but no damage," he said, adding that in his 15 years with the county, he had never experienced anything like it.

And, he admitted, earthquakes aren't something they typically prepare for.

"We really gear more toward weather events -- hurricanes, severe winter weather, severe spring storms. In all honesty, earthquakes are just not something we deal with. It's not something we really think about."

On Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, there were no reports of damage either, but 2nd Lt. Keavy Rake, deputy chief of public affairs, said the air traffic control tower was evacuated for a short period of time just to be safe.

Even after things had calmed down Tuesday evening, the unusual event was still the main topic on everybody's minds as friends and classmates attending open house at Meadow Lane compared notes about their experience with the earthquake that afternoon.

"I was upstairs in my room making a poster for YouTube," said Morgan Gurley, 9. "All of a sudden I was like, 'What's that?' and my dresser started shaking.

"I asked my mom and she said it might be a sonic boom. I said, 'I'm scared.' I could hardly walk. I called Grandma and asked her and called my cousins but they didn't feel it."

Riley Thompson, 9, missed it completely, though.

"The most weird thing, I didn't feel it at all," she said. "I was cleaning out my closet and I didn't feel anything. ... I heard a lot of rumbling, thought it might be a plane because we live near the Air Force base."

-- Assistant News Editor Matthew Whittle contributed to this report.