As the year draws to a close, UVa Today will look back at milestones, achievements, trends and big stories of 2011. To share your 2011 thoughts, visit the UVa Today News Blog or send a tweet @uva using hashtag #uva2011.
December 16, 2011 — Most people in Central Virginia did not understand what was happening when the earth began to shake on Aug. 23. At least not right away.
Ask anyone for their recollections, and many start with, "At first I thought it was a train ...," or a big truck, or construction work, or some other man-made event.
But when the relatively gentle rocking persisted, nearly everyone understood the situation: Central Virginia was experiencing a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake.
Fortunately, the University escaped unscathed, the tremor leaving behind little apart from about 30,000 people with good stories to tell (including first-year students who were also experiencing their first day of college classes). But the impact of the quake, and aftershocks that continue, left its mark more heavily on Louisa County, near the epicenter, forcing the closure of two schools and leaving hundreds of buildings in need of repair.
Virginians, including state employees, have contributed thousands of dollars to funds that aided victims of the quake, in addition to those who suffered through tornadoes in Southwest Virginia and a hurricane that mostly affected the Hampton Roads area.
"The chance of a damaging earthquake in Charlottesville is lower than for our neighbors 30 miles to the east," state geologist David Spears told an emergency preparedness forum in October. "But the pattern is erratic. I can't promise that it can't happen."