Magnitude 5.0

USGS Shakemap

At 1:42 PM today, a magnitude-5.0 earthquake hit about 60 kilometres north of Ottawa. That’s not very far away, and earthquakes in this part of the world can be felt a lot further away because of the geography.

I’m not familiar with earthquakes. I first thought that a large truck had crashed into our building; Jennifer, for her part, thought that something was wrong with the boiler at her school. It was only when references to earthquakes from Ottawa residents started appearing in my Twitter feed that I clued in to what was going on. Then I jumped on Twitter and started reporting myself — yes, I totally became an xkcd comic.

I can hear the public address system for the elementary school across the street from my office when the window is open; I heard it used to calm the kids down, to remind them that the Pontiac has had earthquakes before. The building continued to vibrate — almost a hum — after the big shaking was done, which I think took around a minute. Nothing was knocked off the shelves, nothing was broken, nothing was damaged. We are, in other words, fine.

And while the quake was enough to have government offices evacuated and public servants sent home, and while Ottawa city hall had some broken windows and there have been some reports of breakages, cracks and other damage, that’s a long way from saying that this quake caused anything close to devastation. Though this may not be true for other areas: according to the CBC’s coverage, several buildings in Gracefield, Quebec, a town between Gatineau and Maniwaki, were badly damaged.

I quickly reported the quake on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Did You Feel It? page, because I remembered that the USGS monitored earthquakes worldwide. On the other hand, I couldn’t fill out a similar reporting mechanism on Natural Resources Canada’s earthquakes site, because the site decided at that point to go offline; it was either completely down or very unresponsive for at least a couple of hours after the quake. The federal government should be completely embarrassed by this: Canadians have to rely on the USGS for earthquake information and reporting because, apparently, our government apparently can’t keep a website about earthquakes online during an earthquake. I’ve drafted a letter to the minister responsible, and if you know anything about my letters, you know it will sting. (But it’s going into the ministerial correspondence maw, so who knows what will happen?)

The bottom line is that this earthquake was big enough to be interesting without causing widespread damage or injury. We all got a big jolt, but at the moment it seems like that’s all we got.