Girls have ear-piercing adventure in Virginia during earthquake

Friends School fourth-grader Mary Charlotte Mortimer is getting her ears pierced, and naturally, she wanted her American Girl doll to have its ears pierced, too.

Her cousins, twins Tessa and Cara Collins, also wanted their dolls' ears pierced.


On Tuesday, three girls, three dolls and two mothers, Amy Mortimer, of Roland Park, and her sister, Diane Collins, of Homeland, drove to the American Girl Place store in the Tysons Corner mall in northern Virginia for the piercings. For Mary Charlotte, it was a birthday celebration, too.

"We were just about wrapping it up, but not quite," Amy Mortimer said, when a rare, 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region, with its epicenter in Mineral, Va.


At first, Mortimer thought it was a Metro train rumbling underneath the mall. But as she and other customers realized what was happening, everyone quickly left the store and the mall, leaving their dolls behind in the chaos.

"Lots of people left their stuff behind," Mortimer said. "There were little girls crying."

Luckily, said Mortimer, "My daughter grabbed her doll."

Then they faced a daunting trip back to Baltimore in heavy traffic. Even in the best of circumstances, traffic can be a nightmare in northern Virginia.

"It was just like rush hour started early," Mortimer said. They left at about 2:15 p.m., and got home at about 5 p.m. she said.

"It was definitely a long ride."

Safe and sound, but a little shaken, the Mortimers finally came home to Keswick Road, where Amy Mortimer's husband, Henry, and their other children, Anna, 16, and William, 13, also students at Friends, were waiting for them.

"They were happy to see us," said Mortimer, an admissions counselor at Friends.

The toll of the earthquake was more emotional than physical in north Baltimore. Northern District police commander Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper said she held the previous shift of officers back for several hours and sent them around the district, including to Guilford, Remington and Greenmount Avenue, to assess if there were any injuries, property damage or outbreaks of violence linked to the quake.

"We didn't find anything, no injuries and no damage," Tapp-Harper said.

The communities of Hampden, Mount Washington and Charles Village, as well as businesses such as the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center in Mount Washington, reported nothing awry.

Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said books and other items fell off shelves at his store, Atomic Books, but that was about it. Ray said that mostly, people in the business district stood outside in wonderment, saying, "What the hell?"

Union Memorial Hospital also dodged a bullet, with no surgeries in progress at the precise moment of the earthquake. The biggest impact at the hospital was on cell phone services and fax machines, spokeswoman Debra Schindler said.

"We really came out of it unscathed," Schindler said. "We're good to go, thankfully."

Mount Washingtonian Mac Nachlas said there were no reports of damage or injuries on the community's listserv, and that he was home at the time and saw no effect except for one.

"All the (neighborhood) dogs barked at once," he said.

There was no immediate word on how the old Roland Park Water Tower, a crumbling, 80-foot-tall community icon, had fared. But the Rotunda mall, also an old building, appeared to be all right, said Chris Bell, a senior vice president for the mall's owner, New Jersey-based Hekemian & Co.

Jennifer Erickson, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, reported nothing amiss there. But the earthquake made her life at work downtown an adventure, she said, noting that she works on the 19th floor of the M&T Bank building between Light and Charles Street and had to walk down 19 flights of stairs to evacuate the building temporarily.

Baltimoreans uninitiated in the feeling of an earthquake described it in various ways. For Erickson, "It felt like jumping on a trampoline."

Maggie Blackstone, 15, of Roland Park, was home when the quake hit and said it felt like riding a roller coaster — "an old wooden one."

Her sister, Becky, also 15, was attending a Latin camp at Roland Park Country School, and the students were told to get under their desks. She described the feeling as being like "a moving floor."

"We thought a huge truck must have hit the building," said Leslie Wietscher, an aide to 4th District City Councilman Bill Henry, who was in a staff meeting with her boss at his district office on York Road when the quake struck.

Joshua Berlow, of York Courts in Guilford, said his neighbor had been doing construction work next door.

"I thought it was the guy using power tools," said Berlow, 51, a real estate agent. "I asked him, 'Are you doing that?' He said, 'Uh, no.'"

Then there were those like Cindy Leahy, president of the Keswick Improvement Association and an aide to 14th District City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. Leahy said she and Clarke were riding in a van during a tour of transportation projects in the district.

"We never heard it or felt it," Leahy said.

Friends School spokeswoman Heidi Blalock said her daughter, Annie, was in a large group of middle-schoolers who volunteered at the CARES pantry in Govans on Tuesday. Blalock said Annie, a rising eighth- grader, told her that all the students felt the quake except her, because in her words, "I was so focused on my work."

Magnet and Alaska, two polar bears at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, apparently didn't feel or hear the quake, either. They were sleeping contentedly in 3,000 pounds of "snow" that was trucked in from the Mount Pleasant Ice Rink for the zoo's Beat the Heat Day. And they never moved, even as the quake hit just as a Channel 13 news crew was preparing to report on the snow day, according to zoo spokeswoman Jane Ballentine, who was with the crew at the time.

Ironically, Ballentine, of Roland Park, said she always braces for a possible earthquake when she visits her brother in San Francisco.

"But it's never happened," she said.