A Smyrna family’s trip to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday was interrupted by the earthquake in Virginia. When the tremor hit at about 1:50 p.m., Laura Lynn and her daughters, Leandra and Elaina Gantzer, were inside the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.


A Smyrna family’s trip to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday was interrupted by the earthquake in Virginia.

When the tremor hit at about 1:50 p.m., Laura Lynn of Smyrna and her daughters, Leandra and Elaina Gantzer, were inside the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.

“We were on the ground floor, and I heard a noise, a boom,” said Laura. “I saw dust, and as we got near a doorway, I felt a rush of air, and it was a little hazy, the kind of haze that makes you see if you need to clean off your glasses.”

She said she didn’t feel any shaking, but she didn’t notice much about her surroundings at first because she was focused on her daughters and getting them to safety.

“I saw some pieces of what I’m guessing were insulation falling. More than anything I saw people’s faces, and I just wanted to get my daughters out of the building,” she said. “But it was very orderly. No one was running.”

Leandra, 14, said her first thought when the earthquake happened was that it was a loud noise from the IMAX movie about dinosaurs in the museum. They were near the theater. Then she thought maybe part of an exhibit had fallen.

“I didn’t see much of anything, but everyone in the building just froze,” Leandra said. “Then we all started moving toward the doors. There were bottlenecks because of the bag check areas as you enter the museum, so it’s pretty narrow. Everyone was pretty quiet and orderly. There were a few kids crying because it was a loud noise and no one knew what was happening.”

Elaina, 13, said the most memorable moment was how everyone just froze.

“My first thought was, ‘We’re getting close to 9/11,’” she said, referring to Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists crashed planes in Washington, D.C., New York, and Pennsylvania. “I don’t know why I thought that, but I did, and later my mom said it’s not only close to 9/11 but also to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.”

After they were outside, Laura held the door for people and Leandra offered to do the same, but Laura told her, “I can do a better job if I know you’re safe," and asked her daughters to wait across the street, away from the buildings.

“Considering what was going on, it was amazing how calm everyone was and how appreciative everyone was,” said Laura. “The vast number of people coming out said ‘Thank you’ as I was holding the door. When officials were asked questions, they stopped and took the time to answer everyone because people wanted to know what happened, if the building would reopen and if the metro was running. They were very helpful.”

After Leandra and Elaina walked across the street, they looked back and saw “a tide of people flowing down the stairs,” Leandra said. “Everyone was trying to call on their phones.”

Later as the family walked around the area, Laura said they didn’t notice any damage to any buildings, but they did see police on horseback keeping people away from the Washington Monument area, and a helicopter was circling overhead, very close to the monument.

“I don’t know, but we thought they were checking for damage to the monument,” said Laura.

After touring the new monument to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which will be dedicated on Sunday, the family went to the metro (subway) station to ride to where their car was parked. But what’s normally a nine-minute ride turned into about a two-hour wait because so many people were trying to use the metro. One track had been closed for inspection after the quake.

“It was pretty hectic,” said Elaina.

Still, Laura said, people were friendly.

“The train was exceptionally crowded, but five different people offered me their seat,” she said.

On the way home, only one lane of the eastbound span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was open.

“We saw two people with flashlights checking the seams on the bridge,” said Laura.

Now, they’re all glad to be home safe and sound, but Laura said what she’ll remember most is how calm and helpful everyone was -- visitors and the museum staff and police.

“It tied right in to one of the quotes engraved at the Martin Luther King Jr. monument that says, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”