Earthquake causes venue evacuation

Updated: August 24, 2011, 9:28 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Play was stopped and the venue evacuated at the New Haven Open in Connecticut on Tuesday after an earthquake that originated in Virginia shook the stadium on the Yale campus.

The stadium was evacuated during the third game of a match between Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Elena Vesnina of Russia. The stadium began shaking, and water bottles sloshed back and forth. Spectators felt three waves of shaking, and the umpire halted play.

"I never had experienced that before," Vesnina said. "It was so weird. On the court, we didn't feel anything, but I saw the upper level, and it was shaking. I said, 'Oh my god, what is going to happen?' I was really scared."

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City.

"Please stay away from the stadium and the bridge that leads to the stadium," a spokesman said on a music stage set up next to the stadium court in the main courtyard area.

New Haven firefighters carrying axes walked in and out of the stadium to the applause of fans waiting outside the main court. The fire marshal later deemed the structure sound and let fans back in more than two hours after the tremors hit.

Play resumed at 4:15 p.m. when chair umpire Sandie French said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the resumption of play of a match suspended because of an earthquake." Fans in the stands chuckled, and Vesnina then prepared to serve.

Vesnina was leading 2-0 when the quake hit and went on to win 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

"It turned out to be just like a two-hour rain delay," said tournament director Anne Worcester.

By the end of the afternoon, the gift shop was already selling T-shirts that read, "I survived the 2011 New Haven Open."

Play was not stopped on the first day of the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., although the bleachers shook slightly on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

"That would be the chair umpire's decision and he might call a let," said Chris Widmaier, the USTA's director of communications. "I don't think earthquakes are covered in the rules of tennis."

The effect of the quake was subtle but noticeable in Queens. It only lasted a few seconds, enough for strangers sitting next to one another to ask if they felt anything.

Lauren Albanese and Mihaela Buzarnescu were playing a first-round match when the earthquake hit, but neither felt it.

"I would have stopped playing," Albanese said.

Buzarnescu, who won in three sets, joked that the earthquake explained why she dropped the first set. More seriously, she said: "I didn't feel it."

Widmaier said that in light of the quake and with the U.S.Open to start next Monday, contingency plans were likely to be addressed.

"We have so many contingency plans in place regarding situations natural and man-made," he said. "We have evacuation plans in place to handle any scenario. But I'm sure they will be reviewed."

Federal officials said two nuclear reactors have been taken offline near the quake site in Virginia as a precaution. No damage has been reported. U.S. officials said there is no threat of a tsunami along the East Coast.

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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