NY, DC briefly shaken by 9/11 memories during earthquake
A law enforcement officer directs evacuating New Yorkers during Tuesday's earthquake
August 23rd, 2011
04:47 PM ET

NY, DC briefly shaken by 9/11 memories during earthquake

Tuesday's earthquake was an uncomfortable albeit brief déjà-vu for many in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Workers dashed out of buildings, many of them worried that the tremors from a 5.8-magnitude  earthquake that struck the East Coast was a bomb or terrorist attack.

When Ellen Rea first felt her New York apartment shake, she dismissed it as a neighbor running on the treadmill. The tremors got stronger and a door in her apartment popped open.  She panicked.

“I’m not a person who gets scared, but I thought of 9/11 and thought what the hell happened?” Rea said.

She remembered being near the World Trade Center nearly 10 years ago and coming home with the ashes in her hair.

“It actually surprised me how those thoughts came up,” she said.  “I’m a tough New Yorker.  I was really surprised that was the first thought.”

People who lived through the attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington most likely have a low level of fear and anxiety that generally stays in the back of their psychological experience, but can be triggered, said Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine.

For some, a sudden traumatic event such as Tuesday’s earthquake can be a trigger of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, although usually not the full-blown condition. They may feel panic, anxiety and fear, and even upsetting memories of past trauma.

“I guess I was frightened.  I’m not a scaredy-cat or anything. I didn’t think of an earthquake. I really thought something happened again,” Rea said.

Rea darted out of her chair and looked across the street to the police academy to see the reaction there. When she saw no activity, she calmed down.

She tweeted later: “For the people laughing at ny'ers b/c it was a small quake – you weren't here for 9/11 and didn't know if this was another bomb.”

That’s the worst part about PTSD, said Kaslow.

“The suddenness of it, the unpredictability and unexpected nature of it is going to bring up the worst for people,” she said.

The initial panic and fear will go away for most people once they realize it’s an earthquake and not a repeat of a past terrorist attack, she said.

When Alex Priest,  a director of marketing at ad company, Genius Rocket felt the tremors  on the 7th floor of  its office in Bethesda, Maryland, he also suspected a terrorist attack. He and his coworkers sprinted out of the building.

“I was young when the attacks happened,” said Priest, 22, about 9/11.  “For the vast majority of my formative years, we’ve just had this national security mindset. There are terrorists out there.”

“Just being in that environment and having that as a constant issue in the news and because of the 9/11 anniversary, the first thing that comes into your mind anytime something bad happens is ‘Oh my God, is it terrorist attack?’”

After a few moments, rational thinking returns.

PTSD can become a problem if a person feels numb, detached, frightened, anxious or experience difficulty concentrating.  They may re-experience the original traumatic event in flashbacks – all this is called acute stress disorder reaction.  Psychiatrists typically consider these kinds of problems PTSD if they persist for more than four weeks after the event.

There are ways to manage your reaction. A key strategy is to talk about your anxieties with people you trust; it may be helpful to get a counselor if you have been traumatized before, Kaslow said.  You may need medication if you have persistent sleep disturbances and depression.  Exercise, yoga and meditation can also help calm you down.

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soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Michael Degnan

    While this earthquake should be a wake up call that confirms strong earthquakes can and will occur in relatively inactive regions. We also need to remember that a potentially far more destructive event is on It's way to the East coast and may potentially affect the major eastern cities.

    August 23, 2011 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John K.

      Care to share your litle secret about the looming east coast disaster?

      August 23, 2011 at 19:04 | Report abuse |
    • bbmcrae

      John K., I believe it's called a "hurricane" and it's been all over the news for days.

      August 23, 2011 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
    • Paige

      The looming east coast disaster is called Category 2, and eventually Category 3, Hurricane Irene that will bombarding the Mid-Atlantic and North East coast this weekend.

      August 23, 2011 at 19:12 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Hey Michael. Let's live our lives in constant fear, shall we? It's so much fun. I have some disturbing news for you. Everyone dies! I'd rather die than live in constant fear. Some people prefer to fear rather than to live in joy.

      August 23, 2011 at 21:17 | Report abuse |
    • Josh T.

      I agree Michael. As for Jim, It's not living with fear. It's being cautious and ever vigilant so you can know what the right course of action would be if ever "stuck" in a situation.

      August 23, 2011 at 23:19 | Report abuse |
  2. TrevaMcVeigh

    Alex Priest #asbergers

    August 23, 2011 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bkatzenstein

      haha so true!!! Every time I see him he reminds me of DJ Qualls

      August 23, 2011 at 18:35 | Report abuse |
  3. ross cowan

    but at the moment of the earthquake there was a memorial for 9/11 and over 2,000 people i the city thought that the terrorists had struck again . R.I.P to everyone who lost there lives to cowardly attacks that day .

    August 23, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael

      I totally think the terrorists were evil and wrong. However, how much bravery would you need to hijack a plane and crash it into a building for your [wrong] beliefs?

      August 23, 2011 at 20:16 | Report abuse |
  4. Richie

    You realize the Norwegians are already back to a normal way of life, with the sacrifice of the innocent victims serving to steer them in the right direction of how their entire population will live the rest of their lives.

    August 23, 2011 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • csiko

      @Richie I would never try to make the Norway attack seem small, but I think you underestimate the magnitude of seeing two of the tallest buildings in this country and everything they represent teeter over and collapse in an explosion of dust. Not to mention the fire at the country's supposed security stronghold. I think they're a little different.

      And even then, I'm sure that a similar seismic event in Norway would have similarly jittery/anxious people in its wake.

      August 23, 2011 at 20:59 | Report abuse |
  5. Richie

    Last time I made a very mild post, meeting Communist Dictatorship requirements, about 9-11 and how it was the easiest attack in our nation's history to prevent, and it should not have been the launching point an an extrajudicial government over 320,000,000 citizens where Master can destroy, or manage, any subject that has any potential of being a threat to any interest, using no cause Muller from the bottom and animal whoop from the top, that sub server of the CIA banned me for life...

    For life CNN, you cowardly and shameful ucks...

    Since every citizens thinks these rights, given to us by God himself, are intact, responsible reporting CNN!! Cause you are the elites that know this is really a pragmatic world where the risk inherent in our way of life does occasionally still allow bad things to happen...cause they will still happen even in our totalitarian perversion but for almost no reduction in risk from the bad guys you get the most destructive and shameful government on the face of the earth...

    ucking sad...

    August 23, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zeke


      August 23, 2011 at 20:29 | Report abuse |
    • Tia

      That must have been quite a bong hit you took before posting.

      August 23, 2011 at 20:51 | Report abuse |
    • csiko

      @Richie I think you should take it easy since server hiccups happen, and not blame the supposed Communist media regime for your lack of posting ability.

      Or perhaps you should turn down your autism.

      August 23, 2011 at 21:00 | Report abuse |
    • Tessia

      I'm calling bi-polar!!

      August 24, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
  6. moon627

    i totally get the panicky feeling ... for the first few years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake , whenever we had a little trembler or even if a big truck drove by and shook the building it would cause my heart to skip a beat.

    FYI : We learned that you should not get under a desk or table or car ... instead lie down in the space right next to it in case the roof comes down it will crush the desk, table, or car but leave an opening in the space next to it

    August 23, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. M.O'Reilly

    If U were not there as I was on 9-11-01 then shut up ,it was a sickening horror.
    Just look at the reaction of one man dying on the cross in this world ,9-11 was worse.

    August 23, 2011 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • not a fan

      Um...Is it worse than 500,000 Iraquis being assassinated? Are their lives less valuable? I don't get why people are able to be brainwashed into thinking 9/11 was such a big event. It was not. Millions of people all over the world are dying due to violence. Do not let others brainwash you. Please think for a moment.

      August 23, 2011 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
    • CT

      Is there anything that DOESN'T remind you of 9/11? It's been TEN YEARS and if you were there you should realize that an earthquake feels NOTHING like an explosion or a building being hit by a plane. Kind of pathetic that some people think 9/11 is the only bad thing to ever happen ever, anywhere.

      August 23, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
  8. Kris

    I was in the Pentagon when it started shaking today, what do you think is more likely to happen to this building- a terrorist attack or a random earthquake? So STFU.

    August 23, 2011 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kay

    I can understand the fear of ppl in NYC and DC when the quake hit. There is a history of east coast quakes. And though many are not aware of it, there is a fault line along the east coast. There was also a 5.3 quake on Colorado this morning.

    August 23, 2011 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Not a fan

    I can see how people could be scared, especially since it's sudden like that and since they are not used to tremors. My sister had said it was really unexpected and sharp shaking.

    August 23, 2011 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. lol

    The terrorists truly have won

    Remember back in 2007 when they called out the bomb Squad for a buncha LED Lights Promoting the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie? They even wasted explosives blowing one up.

    Now every natural disaster is compared to Sept 11. Every Weather Phenomenon is a "threat" We have airport security that looks for anyone BUT muslim extremists

    We have gone from a nation that was land of the free home of the brave, to one that fears its own shadow worse than Punxy Phil on Groundhog day.

    We have gone from "Give me freedom or give me death to ..... take my freedom just dont frighten me anymore.

    August 23, 2011 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. iwant911truth


    August 23, 2011 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. janet

    wow...people on here discounting others fears- totally lame! Who are any of you to say what people should feel or think- 9/11 changed those of us on the east coast. We watched buildings topple, and burn, and these places were in driving distance of us- on the other hand, earthquakes are relatively rare here, so why is it so surprising that peoples first thought was terrorists? I agree we need to move on...but never forget. It is a fool that goes into a tall building and does not figure out their exits.

    August 24, 2011 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Naomi

    Protect your head foremost in case of earthquakes.

    August 24, 2011 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. asdfd

    you are a fuc king moron...obviously, most people in nyc have never experienced an earthquake and do not know what it feels like and the last thing anyone expected was it to be an earthquake (because the chance of a terrorist attack is greater than an earthquake in nyc) so it is completely reasonable to think for a second that the reason the building is shaking is because of some sort of explosion nearby or anything else but an earthquake... I don't think, as you claim, that people thought a 737 was crashing into their building..honestly, I felt it and it felt like an earthquake, but then I thought, what are the chances of there being an earthquake here? – close to 0%...so then i dismissed it after a few minutes until I was evacuated from the building I was in

    August 24, 2011 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mjh

    depends on the person and experience they went through whether they can overcome devestating traumas

    August 24, 2011 at 05:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kim

    Wow! Have the people of America really come to THIS?! Wow! And I wonder why I'm such a cynic and have 0 tolerance for society in general!This is pathetic-people with absoliutely NO compassion for others and whatever they've gone through to bring them to where they are now. When have things become so complacent, and cold? And so absolutely(beyond all reason)self-absorbed?! Things in this country WON'T change, either, as long as we(as a whole) continue to move this way!

    August 24, 2011 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dano

      I disagree. I think America as a whole is good. The most moronic, meanest people simply yell the loudest, that's all. And you really can't judge America "as a whole" based on these message boards. It seems to me that the culture here has become one of degradation, hate, and sarcasm. I'll admit that I've been the guilty party several times. Just because the boards here are so vitriolic doesn't mean all or even most Americans are that way in real life. In fact, I would argue that if you took most of these people out from behind their computer screens and made them talk face to face, the dialogue would probably be, in most cases, civil and intelligent. Maybe I'm just being a stupid idealist. Maybe I'm completely off-base. However, I believe that if we continue to focus on the negative aspects of America without fixing anything and keep moaning about how the sky is falling, America will fall. If we celebrate and accentuate what's right with America, we'll be prosperous for centuries to come.

      August 24, 2011 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
  18. Greg Leonard

    I hate how the news characterizes New York as being so damaged and traumatized that every little bump has to be compared to 9/11

    August 24, 2011 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alex in NJ

      Try saying this to someone's face in NYC or the area you punk.

      August 24, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse |
    • linda

      So I take it you were not here for either event.

      March 21, 2014 at 04:40 | Report abuse |
  19. Kim

    America the Great, huh? After reading some of the messages posted here, I have to wonder! The general mentality of some leaves a lot to be desired, and a bad taste(in general) in a persons psyche. Given this, I'd say that America, in general, is in a whole lot of trouble, and if everyone who thinks or acts out on their thoughts in this manner doesn't change their way of doing things, the whole general outcome won't be good. It's bad, now!

    August 24, 2011 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. janet

    people are cold and compassionless...what may be a common occurance on the west coast is a rarity on the east coast. While we don't normally have quakes, we have had planes fly into some of our most iconic buildings, ruining lives. We have had several others try to bomb areas in both NY and DC- so yeah, we live with the fear of terrorists. Thats not to say we stay hiding, afraid to leave our homes. We live our lives just like everyone else, but yeah, we do jump to 9/11 thoughts when something voilently and suddenly occurs. As for the media, a good majority of them work out of NY and DC, so why is it so surprising that they too 'went there'....9/11 lives in all our memories, but for us in the east, it also lives in our pyschies

    August 24, 2011 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply

    Hello nerds of the world u ppl r prety stupid i hte nerds and all of u r one so get out of ur nerd cave a nd get a life stop living wif ur moms

    August 24, 2011 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dano

      Steve Jobs is a pretty big nerd, and he has $74,999,999,999 more than you.

      August 24, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  22. Fer

    for the people who are laughing at this, you don't have any idea what is like to have a big psychological event in your life. For example with all the shootings and insecurity in Mexico, we are starting to develop PTSD and every time we hear fireworks, balloon breaking or even a car crash we are shaking. When you have a big shock in your life, if something unusual happens your first thought isn't something logical. The other day i heard a car crash around 5am and my first thought was a shooting and then some minutes later i realized what it was (and not only me, all the people who were with me felt the same sensation) so i can relate with the people from NY feeling a little bit anxious the first moments of the earthquake

    August 24, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. fckwits

    I've never been through an earthquake before. I've never been through a terrorist attack before. I wasn't in NYC around 9/11.

    So believe me, when you're 40 floors up and look directly down into the WTC site every day, when you've seen the increased police presence patrolling Wall Street and conducting random bag searches at subway stations following the recent Oslo attacks, and when your building starts shaking ... you don't immediately think, "Oh it's ok, this is NYC so OBVIOUSLY it MUST just be an earthquake." You HOPE it's just an earthquake but you don't know immediately.

    And for all those smartasses saying "IT'S BEEN 10 YEARS SINCE 9/11" - yeah, genius, and it's been over 20 years since the last major earthquake felt in NY. Relevance?

    August 24, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Alex in NJ

    I live 11 miles from Lower Manhattan in North Jersey and I work a little ways down the Garden State Parkway. Most of my friends as well as my father work in the city. Honestly, my first thought was our worst nightmare had been realized and someone had got a nuke into the city and the shockwave was just reaching where I was. I was really relieved it was just an earthquake, and a small one at that.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. GSA

    I was so traumatized by the events of 9/11 that I can't even dial 9-1-1 anymore without shaking in fear....no not really but I just wanted to belong with the rest of the scared ppl.
    If you go by the comments on this board everything that Americans were spewing all over their local news about forging on and not living in fear was all BS. Your citizens, politicians and leaders all said that if you live in fear than the terrorists have won.

    August 24, 2011 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Nick, CA

    I've lived on the west coast all my life, and I do admit I was a bit amused at how people on the east coast acted during the quake. Does it mean I have no sympathy for anyone who was near places affected by 9/11? No. I watched 9/11 happen when I woke up for school, so I know how bad it was for anyone in NYC or DC. What most people may forget is, other cities like Los Angeles and possibly Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Portland evacuated people from office buildings and kept them from working because of a fear of the same thing happening in other cities, especially on the west coast where people may not be as alert and fearful since its so far away. I just want to let people in the eastern US know that terrorism doesn't just include New York or Washington DC. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are just as likely targets. I also hear of how people from the east ridicule us for having sun all the time and we couldn't handle snow or even cloudy days. Well know they have a taste of what we deal with every now and then, and please stop trying to sound so superior when everyone on the entire east coast was freaking out over it. And for those out east who think the west coast hasn't had anything happen to affect us psychologically, then that makes you ignorant. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake still scares people from going on overlapping freeways and bridges, and there are tons of instances where freeways overlap in cities. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed people as they went to work! My mom was even working in Northridge when it happened. So don't think we don't know what its like losing someone in a big tragedy.

    August 24, 2011 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Andy

    New yorker or not, you're still a human being. PTSD is under-diagnosed in new york city residents.

    – A

    August 24, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. mayaprophetx

    I'm new here, but I'm really into this sort of thing, and I like to help people understand what is truly going on,l and how you can prepare for it.

    I came across this site last week, and I think you could all benefit from it.


    Anyway, mods, if this in in the wrong section, please move it, or, if you must, delete it. I think that this info needs to be out there though.

    I hope some of you find this helpful. Good luck, and god bless you

    2012 Survival

    August 24, 2011 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. DaVuVuZeLa

    It's been nearly 20 years since Hurricane Andrew and I'm sure folks in Miami don't dredge up memories of that devastation whenver anything stronger than a tropical storm hits.

    It's been five years since Hurricane Katrina, and I'm sure folks in New Orleans don't have flashbacks whenever there's a heavy rain.

    But time and time again whenever something unusal happens in NYC, the first thing they want to scream is "OMG 9/11!!!" They did it it when Air Force One did a flyby for a photo op in Manhattan (with prior knowledge and permission from the Mayor's office), and now they're doing it for an earthquake that happened over 400 miles from the city.

    An earthquake is not a terrorist attack (unless you're one of those conspiracy theorists who believe Gaddhafi stole our HAARP machine). It should not bring up memories of such. Seriously, this removes the credibility of New Yorkers as tough people. I'd hate to see what their reactions would be if there's an accidental gas pipe explosion or something.

    August 25, 2011 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • linda

      So you seem pretty sure about yourself and everything.

      Are you sure?

      Never been through trauma, I'm sure.

      March 21, 2014 at 04:45 | Report abuse |
  30. DaVuVuZeLa

    People, if you're still traumatized by 9/11, SEEK COUNSELING. Really, being stuck in the past where every out-of-normal event reminds you of the attacks is not normal, and it's not healthy.

    August 25, 2011 at 05:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • linda

      It actually is normal.

      March 21, 2014 at 04:46 | Report abuse |
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