The 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia that was felt in Harford County and the region Tuesday afternoon didn't cause any significant damage in the area. But it touched off a whirlwind of activity and excitement.
A strong tremor, lasting around 10 seconds, was felt in downtown Bel Air shortly before 2 p.m., shaking buildings but not causing any identifiable damage.
Harford County Executive David Craig said at about 2:20 p.m. he had not heard of any damage or injuries, but put the county on a liberal leave policy at 3 p.m.
"Some people are a little flustered," he noted. "We evacuated all of our public buildings, went back in with our inspection crew."
Craig also warned people not to call the Emergency Operations Center or 911 unless there is an actual emergency.
"We are encouraging people not to call just to ask for information," he said. "We will probably do a [Connect-CTY message] soon concerning what we know."
The Emergency Operations Center started its emergency operation, as it would do during any serious storm, Craig said.
The following message was issued by the EOC: "This Is Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers with an emergency message. A earthquake has been felt in Harford County. We are currently activating our EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and assessing damage in the County. Please do not call 911 unless you are reporting damage and/or need emergency assistance."
The EOC was still active at 5 p.m., but emergency officials said they were scaling back and only the staff usually at the 911 Center would monitor possible earthquake effects or activity.
Communication seemed disrupted in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Cell phones were jammed and some websites, including those for the U.S. Geological Survey, appeared overloaded.
Reached for comment just after 2 p.m., a representative at the USGS, which is based in Reston, Va., said, "We are being evacuated."
Representatives at the Bel Air Police Department said at about 2 p.m. they were unable to reach emergency communications.
Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station spokesman David Tillman said the nuclear power plant in Delta, Pa., near the Harford border, was operating normally and did not evacuate.
"We have declared 'an unusual event,' the lowest of the four emergency classifications," Tillman said at 3:15 p.m. "We will continue to closely monitor our equipment … We are operating at full power safely."
Dam, bridges, buildings
Bob Judge, a spokesman for Exelon Power, owner of Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties, said there was no damage to the structure and that operators had conducted a full examination of the dam and adjacent power generating plant and had found everything was working properly.
The 83-year-old Conowingo Dam is the state's largest river dam and one of the largest dams in the Eastern United States.
Harford's two major Susquehanna River bridges, The Route 40 Thomas Hatem Memorial Bridge and the I-95 Millard Tydings Bridge appeared undamaged, Teri Moss, spokesperson for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said.
Neither bridge was closed, but crews were out to inspect for any possible problems.
"We will continue to inspect," Moss said.