West Hempstead first graders unshaken by earthquake


The first graders of Room 106, at Cornwell Avenue School in West Hempstead, were in the middle of partner reading time when teacher Kelsey Elias felt the table start shaking — and then her legs, and then the whole room. She’d experienced this once before, and knew what it meant: an earthquake was hitting New York.

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake hit New Jersey last Friday morning, just 60 miles from Malverne and West Hempstead, and resonated throughout neighboring states. Seismic events along the East Coast are rare; the last noticeable quake occurred in 2011, originating in Virginia.

Friday’s event was the highest-magnitude earthquake to hit the Northeast since 1884. No structural damages were reported in Nassau County, executive Bruce Blakeman said during a press conference on Friday.

The earthquake had plenty of adults feeling shaken — but not the students of Room 106.

“I was feeling brave,” Sofia Medina said.

“Very brave,” Zainab Aasim agreed.

But Elias, who knew her young class was in the middle of an earthquake, was a bit rattled.

“It’s definitely scary,” Elias said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that all the kids in this room are safe.”

But Elias kept calm, and the children handled the natural disaster like pros. No one even made a loud noise to show they were scared, Elias said, followed by proud affirmation from the chorus of students.

When the world started to shake beneath them, the 18 first graders each thought something different at the time.

“I thought the wind went through the window and shaked the board,” Jason Akpan said.

“I thought a rock hit the earth,” Julio Chavez Benitez said.

“I thought a tree fell on top of the roof,” Hazel Cakmak said. “Like something crashed into us and got falled down.”

Very few people on Long Island have previously felt the effects of an earthquake. The sensation could be hard to describe for some — but the students of Room 106 had no problem thinking up the perfect metaphors.

“It felt like a train was going around our planet,” Prabhnoor Kaur said.

“It was like a toe from a big ginormous monster jumping,” Matthew Capera said, as his classmates giggled. “Or anything big around the earth crashed.”

The rarity of earthquakes on Long Island meant that plenty of neighbors throughout Malverne and West Hempstead weren’t quite sure what was happening last Friday morning.

“The whole house shook,” Bridget LeVien said to the Herald on Facebook. “It took a few seconds to register what was going on.”

“I was home, and heard a loud rumbling and the house began to shake,” Elissa Forray said. “I went to the window wondering if large construction vehicles were going down my street.”

Many thought the shaking was from a passing freight train. Others quipped that they had assumed their husband put sneakers in the washing machine.

Elias turned the natural disaster into a learning opportunity. Her students, who are learning about nonfiction reading and writing, know the importance of researching things you don’t quite understand. Now the students of Room 106 know exactly why earthquakes happen, and how they work.

“Tectonic plates make earthquakes,” Salvatore Taormina explained, holding his hands together and gliding them back and forth to illustrate his point. “They move and crash into each other, and it’s an earthquake.”