New York, NY, USA -- 23 August 2011 | Permalink
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The shaking was not strong, but it was impossible to ignore. I stopped what I was doing and stared at my desk. As I did so, I pushed my chair back slightly. The shaking stopped, but the feeling that something was wrong persisted. My desk seemed to tremble ever so slightly. I rolled the chair forward again, so that the arm made contact with the desk. As it touched, I felt the shaking again, a very regular, insistent motion. It wasn't violent, nothing was falling over or crashing to the floor, but it was a sensation quite unlike anything else I'd ever felt before.

I turned to my colleague J., who was pulling off his headphones.

"Earthquake." I said. He nodded.

"Yeah, they just said on the radio." he said. "Somewhere down by D.C."

My Twitter client was open. I typed "Whoa, earthquake" and hit the Send button. It was about all I could think of to say.

By the time the seismic waves reached New York, it wasn't much of an earthquake, but an earthquake is a rarity in the north-east. When I went out a few minutes later, people who had been evacuated from their offices were still standing on the street looking faintly bemused. Everyone was curious to know what damage, if any, the very gentle tremors had done.

The earthquake was too weak to be frightening, but I understood for the first time how frightening an earthquake might be: not simply because of the actual damage or the risk of injury, but because of the sheer inexorableness of it, the sense of casual power. The earth shrugs slightly, and everything around you starts to move to a slow, rhythmic pulse. It's a feeling that is so far outside our normal experience that it can only be described as 'eerie'.