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Columbia Reacts to Earthquake: ‘The Scariest Few Minutes of My Life’

Buildings were evacuated, school activities were canceled, and employees and families rushed for safety Tuesday afternoon.

As buildings wobbled, birds flew away and office workers heard rattling, Columbia residents—baffled by the shaking earth this afternoon—blamed the earthquake on dump trucks, a briskly closed desk drawer and even God in the moments after the tremor.

No injuries were reported in Howard County as a result of the 1:51 p.m. magnitude 5.8 Tuesday quake. Its epicenter was in Virginia, reported the U.S. Geological Survey, and its tremors, wobbles and rattles were felt across the D.C./Baltimore region.

In Columbia, buildings along the downtown Lakefront were evacuated, including the American City Building. As of Tuesday afternoon, Howard County schools canceled all afternoon activities. Also, a lab in the school district had some structural damage, county officials said.

The Howard County Times also reported a possible gas leak at Sears at the .

Reactions to the quake in Columbia ranged from the mundane to the surreal.

Eugene So, whose parents, Michael and Min So, own the downtown Columbia café, Lakeside, was emptying trash outdoors at a dumpster when it happened.

“I felt like a dump truck was here,” he said. “I put the bags in, and it was shaking. I jumped off. I came back in, and the alarm was going off, and everyone was leaving.

“And then I just went and made myself a sandwich. I was hungry. Whatever. Was a roof going to come off on me? The Lord’s going to have to try a little harder to kill me.”

Chester Stacy, who works at Riot Creative Imaging in Columbia, said while in a warehouse, a concrete slab under his feet was moving like it was a boat on water.

“Lots of stuff could be heard tumbling up in the drop ceiling from our warehouse roof,” he wrote his mother, Patch contributor , in an e-mail. “[I] stood in a steel doorway and continued to feel waves for about a minute.”

Fred Gunther said he was enjoying an outdoor lunch at Wilde Lake Park when he “felt the table shaking.”

“The shaking built up over a few more seconds when the trees started shaking and the birds on the lake took off,” he wrote Patch in an e-mail. “As a native Californian, it felt just like home.”

spokeswoman Laura Morena-Hill said the quake started soft, with the floor and her office chair vibrating.

“But it quickly picked up intensity and strength to the point the whole building was rocking and shaking back and forth,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It only lasted a few minutes, but those were the scariest few minutes of my life! We all ran out of the building and stood outside until we thought it was safe.”

Mickey Gomez said at first, “it was really creepy.”

“It felt like someone dropped something heavy,” said Gomez, executive director of The Volunteer Center, a program that recruits volunteers and refers them to other agencies. “And then it felt like someone dropped something really heavy again. And I thought, ‘Yeah, this was an earthquake.’”

Gomez said a friend of hers slammed a desk drawer, and thought that action had caused the whole building to shake.

She also said the earthquake highlights the need for people to examine family plans and business plans, especially in light of the threat of Hurricane Irene.

"Maybe people will look at preparedness. People need to take stock of what their plans are," she said.

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