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Predicting the next big Virginia quake

Friday - 8/23/2013, 9:28pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Earthquake experts continue to study the fault lines in a central Virginia county two years after a magnitude-5.8 earthquake rocked the region, and was felt as far north as Canada.

"It is a zone that we're concerned about for future earthquakes. We just can't predict when they'll occur," says Robert Williams, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter of the quake was in the town of Mineral in Louisa County, within the Central Virginia seismic zone, which the USGS has identified as a hazardous area for quakes.

More than 300 quakes with a magnitude of at least 2.5 have occurred along the fault line since the 5.8 quake, according to the USGS.

That 2011 earthquake occurred in the rural community about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, and destroyed a high school, homes and businesses. The National Cathedral and the Washington Monument were both damaged from the temblor.

"If the same earthquake had happened at the same depth immediately below the city of Richmond with a lot of old buildings, you would've see a lot more damage," says Wright Horton, geologist with the USGS.

The questions remains - is another major earthquake on the horizon?

"That's one that we don't know the answer to, but there's some studies that will take some years to get a handle on that," Horton says.

A nationwide earthquake drill has been scheduled for Oct. 17 to help communities prepare for future quakes.

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