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Earthquake in Central Virginia
Released: 5/5/2003

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Kathleen Gohn 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4460



A minor earthquake, preliminary magnitude 3.9 according to the U.S. Geological Survey, occurred in central Virginia at 12:32 p.m on May 5, 2003. The epicenter was about 30 miles southeast of Charlottesville, about 35 miles north-northeast of Farmville, and about 35 miles west-northwest of Richmond.

Hundreds of people have already logged in to the Did You Feel It website to report shaking; check the website at http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/shake/cus/STORE/Xtkax/ciim_display.html to see the latest map. The USGS has received no reports of damage at this time.

Since at least 1774, people in central Virginia have felt small earthquakes and suffered damage from infrequent larger ones. The largest damaging earthquake in the central Virginia seismic zone (a magnitude 4.8) occurred in 1875. Smaller earthquakes that cause little or no damage are felt each year or two. Earthquakes in the central and eastern United States, although less frequent than in the western United States, are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast. A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt at many places as far as 60 miles from where it occurred, and it infrequently causes damage near its source.

Several million earthquakes occur in the world each year, but many go undetected because they occur in remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The USGS now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, 20,000 a year. Real-time earthquake information can be found at http://neic.usgs.gov/. In addition, people who experience an earthquake can go online at http://earthquake.usgs.gov and report an earthquake at Did You Feel It? to share information about its effects and help create a map of shaking intensities and damage.

The USGS is working to improve its earthquake monitoring and reporting capabilities through the Advanced National Seismic System, which was authorized by Congress in November 2000 to be implemented over the next 5 years. ANSS will be a nation-wide network of at least 6,000 modern seismometers that will provide emergency-response personnel with real-time "shaking" information (within 3-5 minutes of an earthquake) and provide engineers with information about how buildings reacted to the shaking. As of spring 2003, more than 300 new earthquake monitoring instruments have been installed in the San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Anchorage, Reno, and Memphis areas.


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