Across the Northeast, startled residents wondered what the shaking was


I was a contributor on this team story, which originally appeared in The New York Times April 5, 2024

Across much of the Northeast, even in areas that were more than 100 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter, people were startled by the strange vibrations Friday morning.

Was it an exploding boiler, they wondered at first, or a runaway eighteen-wheeler, or maybe some nearby construction work?

Some ran out of their homes. Others hung on to a piece of furniture for dear life.

Then they checked in with friends and relatives, temporarily overloading some telephone services.

Lauren Hinkson felt the earthquake in Washington, Conn., about 130 miles northeast of the epicenter.

She was working from home at her kitchen table when the house began shaking and she heard a loud noise — her boiler clanging. A picture fell off the wall.

Worried that the boiler was about to explode, she ran outside and called a neighbor down the block, who said she had felt the shaking, too. That is when Ms. Hinkson realized she had just been through an earthquake.

“I had an intense response,” she said. “I couldn’t hold my phone, I was shaking so hard.” She was relieved about 25 minutes later when her children’s school sent an email confirming that all the students were fine.

In Smithfield, R.I., west of Providence, Kimberly Kowal Arcand felt the earthquake as a vibration, akin to a large truck passing nearby, she said.

Closer to the epicenter, in Bethlehem, Pa., Brittany Roberts, the manager of Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, noticed that glass bottles of soda began rattling on the shelves, and then the sandwich-board signs outside fell to the pavement.

“It felt like an entire semi ran over the building,” she said. “It was really scary, and I’m from California, so I ran outside.”

Abby Mahone, the director of Moravian Academy, a private school in eastern Pennsylvania, said that all three of its campuses, in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, felt the earthquake. Even so, she said, the mood was lighthearted: “Some teachers and students didn’t know, at first, is the building shaking because the students are having so much fun?”

In Philadelphia, though, it was business as usual at Sonny’s Famous Steaks, a cheese steak restaurant on Market Street.

“We’re surprised,” said Julisa Puma, a cashier at Sonny’s. “We heard from people in South Philly that there was an earthquake, but we didn’t feel it at all.”

Even so, the city’s 911 system was flooded with calls, according to Joe Grace, a spokesman for Mayor Cherelle L. Parker. Police officials asked residents not to dial 911 unless they had an emergency or their property or vehicles were damaged.

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, students said the quake shook their rooms and left pictures askew on their walls. Ron Ozio, a university spokesman, said officials had checked the campus, building by building, for damage or injuries but had found none.

In the event of aftershocks, officials warned in a campus alert: “Stay where you are and Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Get under and hold on to sturdy furniture. Protect your head and neck with arms or pillows.”

And, also, they warned, stay out of elevators.

Dana Goldstein, Mattathias Schwartz and Meredith Cummings contributed reporting.

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