Derry couple caught up in American earthquake

Connor Doherty and his fiance Helen O'Hare. (EQUAKE2608AQ01)
Connor Doherty and his fiance Helen O'Hare. (EQUAKE2608AQ01)

A Derry couple holidaying in the USA escaped unscathed when a large earthquake struck areas off the east coast of America on Tuesday.

Connor Doherty, from the Steelstown Road and his fiancee Helen O’Hare, from Culmore, were in the Pentagon City Shopping Mall in Washington DC when the building started to shake.

Connor recalled the moment when the building started to move and described the “panic” that ensued.

“The building shook for between 10 or 15 seconds - it was quite unbelievable,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going on. The mall is a stone’s throw away from the Pentagon so there was a lot of panic on people’s faces.

“Shoppers and workers started running out of the mall. I suppose looking back now, many of them might have thought that it was a terrorist attack but as we moved outside it became clear that it had been an earthquake; there was no smoke to be seen or sirens to be heard and then word spread fast that it had been an earthquake.”

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake, which centred in Mineral, Virginia, was felt right across the east coast and caused damage to buildings and monuments.

There was no loss of life but many people had to be treated for minor cuts and bruises.Coincidentally, Connor and Helen passed through the epicentre when they drove through the small town of Mineral the day before.

“It’s strange to think that 24 hours before the earthquake; it was quite shocking,” said Connor.

Moments after the earthquake struck the White House and Pentagon buildings were all evacuated.

Connor explained that public transport was affected as a result of the earthquake and said that both he and Helen had to wait for hours before they could catch a train back to where they were staying.

“It was clear that no one wanted to take any chances so a lot of the government buildings in Washington DC were evacuated immediately.

“It was chaos on the streets. Thousands of people were trying to get home but trains and buses had to be cancelled which resulted in congestion and long waiting times.”

Connor and Helen are scheduled to return home to Derry tomorrow evening and when asked if the earthquake would make him think twice about visiting America again he said not at all.

“I heard that it’s the first earthquake to strike in the east coast of U.S. for quite some time and apparently it was also quite shallow.

“Obviously, we were left a bit shaken and shocked but it would never stop us returning to this part of the U.S. again.

“These things happen and there’s nothing we can do about it.”