By Kathy Daley
SULLIVAN COUNTY Cashier Mary Psarudakis was leaning on the glass counter at the Jeffersonville gift shop called The Other Store when suddenly the counter began to lightly rock.
“Then I felt shaking under my feet,” related Psarudakis, “and the wind chimes in the store started moving. I said to myself, ‘what the heck is this?’”
On Tuesday at about 2:30 p.m., Psarudakis wasn’t the only local person baffled by what turned out to be a Virginia earthquake delivering far-reaching tremors.
The Sullivan County 911 system logged about 90 phone calls from the concerned and the curious.
“We got calls from all over Sullivan County, from Roscoe to Wurtsboro, from Grahamsville to Lumberland to Monticello, you name it,” said 911 Coordinator Alex Rau. “Mostly they reported a shaking, and they wondered if there was an explosion or blasting going on somewhere. No one told us of any damage.”
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office also received a handful of calls, according to Chief of Patrol Art Hawker. Some came from Liberty, others from Jeffersonville.
County Emergency and Homeland Security Coordinator Dick Martinkovic was out of the county on vacation at the time of the quake, but said there was no damage reported within the county.
“Zip,” he said.
Statewide, “We got a nice little jolt,” agreed one earthquake expert, Matt Pritchard.
An associate professor of geophysics at Cornell University in Ithaca, Pritchard explained that waves from the quake at Mineral, VA, 80 miles from Washington, D.C., “came through the earth, kind of like a stone dropped in the water sends waves. The shaking went all the way to Atlanta, Chicago and Montreal.”
At its epicenter, the quake registered 5.8 on the Richter scale, making it a serious event for Virginia and similar in magnitude to quakes that rumbled and shook at various times in New York history.
“About once every 50 years, New York State has had an earthquake in the 5 range,” Pritchard said. The last was in 1944 when upstate Massena near the St. Lawrence Seaway was hit, causing an estimated $2 million damage to Massena and a nearby town in Ontario, Canada.
In recent times, the Empire State has endured quakes “that we feel,” noted Pritchard, but that are lower than 5 on the Richter scale. Those are happening only about once every 10 years, he said.
Pritchard explained that earthquakes are measured in two ways: by means of the Richter scale, which measures magnitude by use of a seismograph; and by the Mercalli intensity scale, which deals with observable earthquake damage.
“A given earthquake has one magnitude, in this case, 5.8 for the Virginia earthquake,” he said. But intensity of the quake in Virginia was determined at 7, which is assigned when damage to homes and other buildings takes place as a result of an earthquake. On Tuesday, New Yorkers felt waves from the quake in the 2 to 3 range on the intensity scale, “putting it on the edge of being detected,” Pritchard said.
But for some, on the edge was a little too close for comfort.
Matt Frumess of Liberty said he felt “odd and unsettled” about the tremors he experienced in his Liberty home.
“I was upstairs on the second floor, working at my desk, on the computer and on the phone,” he said. “I felt a vibration through the house that reminded me of my childhood. We lived in the city, and the subway would vibrate and rumble under house.”
He turned the TV on, he said, and learned about the quake, “clearly something out of the norm.”