Hydrant mishap

NOT FROM QUAKE, BUT A FLUID SITUATION While the area was reacting to the 5.8 magniture earthquake on Tuesday, transportation officials said the worst disruption to travel in teh Towson area had nothing to do with the quake. The light rail line was closed between Timonium and Hunt Valley after a two-vehicle collision at Shilling and McCormick roads caused damage to a high-pressure water hydrant and flooded the tracks about 3:50 p.m. The Maryland Transit Administration set up a bus to carry riders to Hunt Valley. (photo by Brendan Cavanaugh, Patuxent Publishing / August 24, 2011)

Mark Armstrong, co-owner of Towson Framing Gallery, was upstairs in the Finkelstein building in the 400 block of York Road pricing some molding samples on Tuesday when, "I heard this big rush," he said.

"It sounded like wind and a rat-a-tat-tat like hail," he said, "and I looked out the window and it was a beautiful sunny day — even though the building was shaking and the walls were trembling.

"I went out on the second-floor veranda and looked across the parking lot and saw this big picture window still pulsating," he said. "My neighbor came out and asked, 'What was that?'

"It occurred to me," said Armstrong, "that this must be what it's like in an earthquake."

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It was indeed. Tuesday's 5.8 magnitude quake emanating out of Virginia hit Baltimore County shortly before 2 p.m., shaking buildings and causing county government buildings to be evacuated.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake hit near Mineral, Va., with trembles reported from South Carolina to Boston.

No significant damage was reported in the county, but fire officials responded to people stuck in elevators, said Don Mohler, a county spokesman.

Mohler, chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said he was on the phone with Chris McCollum, executive director of the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture in Hunt Valley, when McCollum noticed shaking there.

"He said, 'Don, I gotta go,' and as soon as he said that, I said, 'I know why. We're having an earthquake,' " Mohler said.

County buildings were evacuated so fire and public works teams could assess possible gas leaks or structural damage — neither of which were found. County employees were allowed back inside at about 2:40 p.m.

Supervisors were told to allow liberal leave to county employees who were "nervous or worried about themselves or family members," Mohler said.

Phone lines became jammed after the trembles occurred, as residents tried to reach loved ones and find more information.

Kamenetz was in Ocean City for a few days with his family after last week's Maryland Association of Counties convention. He said they didn't feel a thing, but immediately after the quake, he received a call from his office.

"I spoke to the police and fire chiefs immediately," Kamenetz said from Ocean City. "Our public safety personnel are well-trained to handle any emergency," he said, "though I don't recall any instance where we had an earthquake."

Little damage, no panic

Charles Herndon, spokesman for Baltimore County Public Schools, said the system had no evacuations, but, "There were some people who voluntarily left the buildings and went out when it happened, but I think that's a normal human reaction."

After the earthquake, Herndon said calls began pouring into the central office from schools, including from the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, where administrators thought the trembles were from construction on the campus.

"It was definitely an unnerving thing for a few moments," Herndon said. "I think it takes a few moments to process what it is. Is this a big truck rolling by? Is it the boiler a floor below me? A military jet overhead?"

Maryland State Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority engineers inspected bridges, and reported no damage. Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for county police, fire, and emergency management, said inspectors checked out hospitals and county buildings and also found no problems.

The county's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management activated its Emergency Operations Center in the county office building.