BY SUSIE CURRIE — Before August 23, many area residents had never experienced an earthquake. So it was understandable that they were shaken in more ways than one that afternoon, just before 2 p.m., when the 5.8 magnitude tremor sent shock waves through much of the East Coast.
In Hyattsville, shuddering floors and swaying light fixtures sent several neighbors outdoors, where the bright sunlight belied the disaster-movie feel as they asked each other “Was that …?” and “Did you feel …?”
Others turned to social media sites for confirmation, especially after overloaded phone lines rendered both cell phones and land lines temporarily useless.
Locally, the biggest casualties seemed to be part of a brick chimney and some fragile household items. Though two aging apartment buildings in Temple Hills were condemned, no serious injuries and only 34 power outages were reported in the county.
It was a different story that weekend, when Sunday’s Hurricane Irene left tens of thousands without power in Prince George’s County alone. (According to Pepco, it was the hardest hit of the counties surrounding Washington, D.C.)
At Deitz Park, dozens of downed limbs closed the park for a week. For residents, the city’s woodchipper made several extra trips through the neighborhood; bundled branches of up to 4 feet will still be picked up during the normal Monday yard waste collection.
Perhaps the biggest impact was on the Prince George’s County Public School calendar. Both Northwestern High School and Hyattsville Elementary School were closed three of the first six days of the school year, which began on August 22.
Since much of Hyattsville emerged unscathed from both the earthquake and the hurricane, many parents wondered at the systemwide closings. In a letter to school board representative Amber Waller, the HES PTA requested “a more flexible process” that would take into account conditions at individual schools.
It went on to explain that “the PTA does not want to see PGCPS seek a waiver from the state to meet the 180-day mandate, as was done in school year 2009-2010.” That year, record snowfall closed schools for nine days – and shortened the academic year by five.
“We are currently developing a process for making up the missed instructional time,” said PGCPS spokesperson Briant Coleman. “Once a decision has been made, we will notify parents, guardians and students.”