Bracing for a hurricane in the Atlantic, Harford County weathered a different kind of natural disaster Tuesday when a minor earthquake shook the area just before 2 p.m., causing widespread reports of damage and brief evacuations of many local buildings.
The quake registered 5.9 on the Richter Scale at its center approximately 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Va. and 80 miles southwest of Washington D.C., according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and lasted between five and seven seconds locally.
In a robo-call to residents in the Harford area, county executive David Craig said that there is a one-in-10 chance of an aftershock “of similar strength” occurring by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Maryland State Police said barracks throughout the state reported feeling the earthquake but, as of 2:30 p.m had not received any reports of serious injuries.
Harford Memorial Hospital was briefly evacuated following the quake, but as of 3:30 p.m. the building had been inspected and reopened, according to Martha Mallonee, spokeswoman for the Upper Chesapeake Health system.
According to the county’s Emergency Operations Center dispatch system, in the aftermath of the quake, a gas leak was reported at Havre de Grace High School, house fires were reported in Bel Air and Aberdeen, and the odor of gas and an automatic alarm were reported at two locations in Edgewood. Another building fire was reported on the 600 block of Boulton Street in Bel Air.
All had been cleared as of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Baltimore Gas and Electric said their power grid and natural gas assets did not sustain damage.
“It appears that its natural gas and electric systems are operating properly following today’s earthquake,” the company said in a release. “The utility is in the process of conducting a thorough inspection of its facilities to determine any possible impact.”
The Harford County Emergency Operations Center and the Havre de Grace and Aberdeen police departments were inspecting the area for other signs of damage. Residents were urged not to call 911 unless they needed emergency assistance or were reporting damage.
The State Highway Administration closed the Nice Bridge on U.S. Route 301 in southern Maryland from 1:55 to 4:40 p.m., but reported no damage to state-owned structures or roadways.
“SHA owns and maintains more than 2,500 bridges and 17,000 miles of highways. We are being conservative and proactive to confirm the integrity and safety of the structures across the state,” Acting SHA Administrator Darrell B. Mobley said in a statement. “Please stay alert and use extra caution this evening as inspection personnel will be out as a precaution.”
Numerous local businesses were temporarily evacuated shortly after the quake. The county office building at 220 S. Main Street in Bel Air was inspected by County Executive David Craig and other officials, and was deemed safe.
“The County Executive and DILP Director have done a walkthrough of 220 South Main Street and have deemed it safe,” county officials said in a release. “All other county offices will be inspected by 8 a.m. tomorrow to ensure that facilities are safe.”
However, Harford County Government put its liberal leave policy into effect Tuesday afternoon for all employees.
One Jarrettsville woman told The Dagger that her dishes rattled and reported finding minor new cracks in the stucco of her home.
Cecil County Schools announced late Tuesday that, to allow time to inspect school facilities, schools would not open until Thursday. County schools and offices will be closed for 10- and 12-month staff, including the central offices, with the exception of maintenance staff and head custodians who are to report on time. No other staff members will be permitted to be in the school system’s buildings.
From Harford County Government:
Good evening, this is County Executive David Craig with an important message. At approximately 2:00pm today, Harford County felt the effects of an earthquake. The epicenter was located approximately 88 miles southwest of the District of Columbia in the Town of Mineral, Virginia. The Office of the US Geological Survey reported the event registered 5.9 on the Richter Scale. There is a one in ten chance that an aftershock similar in strength could occur by 2pm tomorrow. Citizens are asked to report significant damage resulting from the earthquake to the 911 Center. Significant damage is defined as needing immediate attention to protect life and safety. Individuals should look for anomalies such as cracked foundations or broken glass resulting from this event. Harford County is in the process of inspecting County owned facilities and bridges.