EARTHQUAKE! Brooklyn trembles in wake of 15-second seismic shift

EARTHQUAKE! Brooklyn trembles in wake of 15-second seismic shift
Photo by Bess Adler

Yes, that was an earthquake.

A 15-second-long tremor rocked Brooklyn at about 1:50 pm on Tuesday, sending shockwaves from Sunset Park to Downtown, where sleepy skyscraper-confined workers were jolted into the streets.

Columbia University seismologists measured the quake as a 5.9 originating in central Virginia.

“We felt that whole shockwave from there,” said seismologist Mitchell Gold.

Indeed, the quake rattled the nation’s capital and the East Coast from North Carolina to New England. But it caused only minor damage to buildings — including a collapsed chimney atop a 14-story building in the Red Hook Houses. A Housing Authority spokeswoman said that there were no injuries.

Cellphone and land-line service was briefly overwhelmed as residents rushed to talk to friends and relatives and find out what happened.

“I called my husband right away,” said Rocio Alvarado, who works at a Montague Street chiropractor’s office. “He was in Forest Hills [a neighborhood in Queens, a distant borough] and saw people running out of buildings. We knew right away what it was.”

Jack Sandoval, 20, braces for an aftershock outside of Polytechnic University on Jay Street seconds after the earthquake hit on Tuesday.
Community Newspaper Group / Dan MacLeod

This being 2011, most of the immediate reaction came in on Twitter.

“The Department of Education building just shook, and everyone is evacuating,” tweeted MsLoveBomb.

“OMG, we just had an earthquake,” tweeted John Woody (aka iAmFASHION4ward). “The whole Downtown Brooklyn just started rocking.”

Inside the Community Newspaper Group Building at Metrotech Center at Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue, columnist Joanna DelBuono jumped out of her desk and calmly stated, “I think that was an earthquake, and I’m outta here.”

She promptly left the building — against the wishes of her concerned co-workers. Downstairs, students and faculty from NYU-Polytechnic University gathered in the commons.

The IKEA furniture superstore in Red Hook was evacuated, as were some government buildings, including Borough Hall, though work resumed at 3 pm.

Deputy Borough President Yvonne Graham felt the historic building rumble for 30 seconds.

Workers milled about in front of Downtown office buildings, including the Transit Authority headquarters on Boerum Place.
Photo by Paul Martinka

“Immediately I knew it was an earthquake,” said the Jamaica native, who said she experienced similar tremors in her homeland. “It was obvious — the building was shaking.

In the quake’s aftermath, dozens of Brooklynites huddled to an evangelical prayer station near Borough Hall and prayed for their safety.

Wounded Heart minister James Sloven, who has been proselytizing in Cadman Plaza for most of the year, pointed to a passage from Matthew 24:7 which indicates that an earthquake is a sign of the End of Days — though no one knows the exact day or hour.

Sloven is not optimistic.

“I don’t think today was an accident — the weather patterns over the last 24 months have been crazy,” Sloven said. “I think there are unbelievably much more [earthquakes] to come.”

Brooklyn is on the North American plate which runs from the center of the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. There are several smaller fault lines in the area, including two in uptown Manhattan and one in Dobbs Ferry, a quaint town along the Hudson River.

But the area has historically had little seismic activity.

A brick chimney collapsed in the Red Hook Houses, one of the only tangible evidence that an earthquake had hit Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Photo by Paul Martinka

In June, 2010, Brooklynites experienced tremors from a 5.0-magnitude earthquake originating from Canada, though there were no reports of serious damage.

Seismologists believe that the city is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a 5.0 magnitude about once per century, and that a magnitude-6 earthquake affects the area about once every 670 years.

Ed Bahlman of Sunset Park called this newspaper at the first sign of trouble.

“I thought my partner was rocking my chair as a joke,” he said. “But then she said she wasn’t and we realized something was wrong.”

Bahlman said he was shaken — and not just literally — by the geologic event.

“If it can happen in Brooklyn, it’s scary,” he said.

Things even got a little hectic in Bensonhurst, where people ran out of stores on 86th Street seconds after the quake hit.

Dog daze: These dogs were nervous as they peered down from the roof of a building on Scholes Street in Williamsburg seconds after the temblor.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“I was sitting in my car on 86th and 15th Avenue when all of a sudden I felt some shaking,” said Carmine Santa Maria, the unofficial mayor of the ’Hurst. “I thought someone was shaking my car! But then, I saw people running out of the stores screaming. That’s when I figured something was up.”

— with Aaron Short and Vince DiMiceli