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Quake Gives East Coasters Rare Glimpse Of Life In California

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook much of the East Coast Tuesday, giving Millions of people a rare glimpse of what’s like to live in California.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake was felt in Virginia on August 23, 2011.
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Above: A 5.8-magnitude earthquake was felt in Virginia on August 23, 2011.

Audio

Aired 8/23/11

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City.

Scientists say the East Coast quake was the largest to hit the region in nearly 70 years – mainly because of its geological structure. California is more prone to earthquakes because it lies on the meeting point of two tectonic plates.

San Diego State University geology professor Thomas Rockwell said large East Coast quakes may be rare, but they’re also much stronger than California temblors.

“The reason is the rock is more solid -- the deep rock. And it’s like a bell – If you ring a bell with a hammer it rings. If you hit a piece of wood with a hammer it thuds. In California, we’re more like a piece of wood, so we attenuate earthquake energy much more rapidly,” explained Rockwell.

Rockwell added the quake likely hit on an old inactive fault or one that was unknown. He said seismologists have a much better handle on California faults.

“And in many cases how often they produce large earthquakes. There’s always more work that needs to be done and we’re still trying to understand short and long-term patterns of reasonable seismicity. But we’re much further along that the mid-continent area or the East Coast. “

Colorado was also hit with a sizeable quake this week. The magnitude 5.7 was the largest recorded since 1973. Rockwell said the two events are not related.

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