SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - The Earth Moved Under My Feet, Quakes In WV Mountains

By Bob Weaver

If you were around Sunny Cal in 1897, you could have experienced a frightening earthquake shock.

The newspaper reported, "It was very perceptibly felt here last Monday. A general inquiry, 'Did you feel the shock?' went the rounds. The shaking the earth got the other day reminds us that we are liable to be swallowed up any time."

The epicenter of that quake was in Giles County, Virginia, and there was damage to chimneys in Bluefield, about 50 miles away. Grafton reported "windows broken and citizens panic stricken."

It's not likely that Sunny Cal will be swallowed, but shakes from quakes are felt here every few years, with some bigger quake events capturing attention.

I was having lunch with my mom and her sister in the basement cafeteria of Parkersburg's Camden-Clark Hospital in October, 1974, when aunt Thelma's chair began skipping across the tile floor from our table.

She was befuddled saying "Oh, oh, oh," as she distanced herself from her lunch.

There was a report of cracked plaster and articles toppling from shelves in Parkersburg, with the shock felt in Ravenswood, Belleville, Cottageville and New Haven.

My grandfather, John Ira McCoy, who died in 1950, said there was a "shaker" that caused apples to fall from a tree on his farm in Hur in the late 1800s. It could have been that big one in 1897.

There is a major earthquake fault along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, the New Madrid Fault.

In 1811 at New Madrid, Missouri "The rivers they boiled like a pot over coals And mortals fell prostrate, and prayed for their souls."

That fault has caused problems from the Mississippi area up the Ohio River Valley.

Another strong earthquake around Martinsburg occurred in April, 1909.

Fortunately, earthquakes in West Virginia, along with the nation's natural disasters are infrequent in the Mountain State. In 1926, chimneys toppled at Keno and Pomeroy, Ohio, and Letart, West Virginia, and more stuff fell from store shelves.

West Virginia felt tremors from a major earthquake in 1935, the epicenter near Timiskaming, Quebec, Canada. The effects were felt from Wheeling to Sutton. The shock lasted about one-half minute, enough to get your attention.

Damage to grocery store in Anna, Ohio

Two years later, in 1937, there were damaging earthquakes in Anna, Ohio, with citizens of Huntington feeling the shock wave.

On March 8, 1943, an earthquake centered in Ohio was reported felt at Wheeling, West Virginia and another centered near Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, and Massena, New York, was felt at Parkersburg.

In 1959 there was an earthquake located near the Virginia - West Virginia border region causing minor damage in Giles County, Virginia.

Probably the strongest and most widely felt earthquake in West Virginia's history occurred on November 19, 1969, but more recently on April 21, 2002.

In 2002, Kenny Petrice was leading a party of people through Bowden Cave. When they were almost at the end of the watercourse, they heard a huge noise that sounded like the cave was collapsing and they got out quickly.

There had been a magnitude 5.5 earthquake in Plattsburgh, New York.

The power of earthquakes personally registered after I attended a San Francisco conference in 1989, staying at the historic Fairmont Hotel on Knob Hill.

I walked over much of the well-known area, riding the trolley cars and visiting the wharf. Immediately on returning home, I turned on the TV and saw part of the city on fire and freeways collapsed - the devastation of San Francisco's second greatest quake of the twentieth century.

What the difference a day makes.

On August 23, 2010, Calhoun and many WV residents really felt the shockwaves from a Virginia centered earthquake registering 5.9, shaking houses, TVs, chairs and cars in the county.

More recently, under Braxton and Gilmer counties where Marcellus gas drilling, fracking and insertion of millions of gallons of waste water from frack operations is happening, more than a dozen minor quakes have been recorded.

The drilling operators and a WV state seismologist says the quakes are an "act of god," not related to man-made activities.

In some other states, quakes have been linked to fracking operations.