Yesterday's 5.8 quake, centered in Virginia, was in every way a real earthquake. If you live in the east, you need to know that. Check your houses, chimneys, anything that could break that you put your bodies into. And be prepared for aftershocks.
The Loma Prieta quake, which killed 63 people, destroyed a freeway in Oakland, and a neighborhood in San Francisco, and caused the Bay Bridge to be rebuilt, among other things, was a 6.9 -- much stronger than the quake that hit the east coast yesterday. But 5.8 is nothing to sneeze at. Because the earth's crust here is a lot older and more solid, the waves were transmitted further than they would have in the west. But they also did less damage -- why -- I'm not sure.
The terrible thing about earthquakes is that, unlike hurricanes, you don't know when they're coming. And the first shock from a quake is usually not the last, and not always the worst. The ground kept shaking for days after Loma Prieta. Each time nerves got more rattled. The more aware you were of where you are, just in case this is where you are when the Big One strikes.
On the radio and on the Internet, people say that the city is over-reacting with inspections and evacuations. They are not. Most of the buildings here, unlike the West Coast, were not designed with earthquakes in mind. Until yesterday we had no idea how they would perform in an earthquake. Until we look to see what kind of damage there was, we won't have any idea.