More on Richmond's mystery booms
More area residents are shaken up about booms
BY JULIAN WALKER AND PETER BACQUE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITERS
Nov 23, 2004
HATLEY MASON / RTD
Reports of the mysterious booms first felt in North Side neighborhoods are now coming from other city sections and beyond.
Folks from the Fan District, Lakeside, Short Pump and New Kent County all say they have sensed the shock.
Richmond leaders have even been contacted by officials from Fort Wayne, Ind., and several Canadian provinces where similar booms have been felt recently, city emergency services spokesman Bill Farrar said.
"We've gotten anecdotal stories, suggestions and theories from all over the place," he said. "But from what has been described to me, I don't believe we are dealing with the same things."
What exactly the city is dealing with remains unclear.
The booms began Nov. 2 and have occurred several times a week since. Most have been localized in North Side neighborhoods. After one of the bigger booms - Sunday about 12:45 p.m. - authorities logged 250 calls to 911 in 90 seconds.
City officials have dismissed construction firms, quarry outfits and railroad companies as the source of the noise. They have ruled out military exercises and aviation activities. Public utility personnel have turned up no evidence of a problem in gas, water or sewer lines.
And scientists say their instruments show no signs of earthquakes in the Richmond area.
"If a human being felt an earthquake in the Richmond area, and it was indeed an earthquake, we would record it on one of these [seismograph] stations," said Waverly Person a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. "And we recorded nothing."
The region's long-inactive coal mines are not likely the cause of the reported booms and shaking because none are near North Richmond, the Fan or the near West End, said geologist David Spears with the Virginia Division of Mineral Resources in Charlottesville.
"There's nothing resembling gas- or coal-bearing [rock] strata in the area," he said.
The collapse of old, man-made underground structures, such as shallow subway tunnels or water conduits, could cause a shake perceptible to people but not deep enough to register on seismic scales, ventured James Beard, Virginia Museum of Natural History geology curator.
"Whatever this is," he said, "it is happening relatively close to the surface because they are not picking it up on nearby seismographs."
Another possibility, Beard said, is shifting earth from saturation of the ground from recent rain events, including the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston. But in that case, he explained, the booms would be followed by landslides.
For now, city officials are considering all options.
Advanced audio equipment that will help pinpoint the origin of the booms will be set up to monitor North Side neighborhoods and a seismic activity device is on its way to Richmond, Farrar said.
"There's a lot of energy being expended," he said. "We're continuing to look for anything that might explain this."