08/23/2011 08:01 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2011

Earthquake Aftermath: Residents Of Virginia Farming County Repair Damage

MINERAL, Va. -- Residents of this small town in Central Virginia's farming county began repairing the damage to their homes and businesses Tuesday after an earthquake struck their close-knit community. The quake measured 5.8 on the Richter scale, a force not seen in this part of the country in more than a century.

"I felt the whole house coming in from underneath me, and everything flew off the shelves," said Dot Payne, a lifelong resident of Mineral. "It felt like it lasted forever, but it was probably only 40 seconds."

The quake was felt as far north as New York City, and caused a building to collapse in Washington, D.C., but there was little visible damage in Mineral, near its epicenter.

Payne said the Mineral Fire Department inspected her modest, white clapboard house less than an hour after the quake, which happened around 2 p.m. ET. "They found some cracks, and our chimney has moved a little, but it's alright otherwise," she told The Huffington Post. Payne is confined to a wheelchair and said her husband, Roy Payne, has cleared a path for her in their house, but little else had been done in the way of cleaning up.

Elsewhere in town, crews could be seen drawing tarps over chimneys, and one small church between Mineral and the adjacent town of Louisa had a collapsed wall, but the majority of the damage appeared to be indoors.

Roy Payne's flower shop is adjacent to the couple's house, and he invited HuffPost inside to survey the damage. The grassy green floors were strewn with bouquets of faux flowers in assorted vases, and smashed painted china figurines littered the area around the cash register. "I've never felt anything like it," Roy Payne said of the quake. "I reached up to save a framed picture on the wall and I got knocked down. Then I stood up and got knocked down again."

When the quake passed, Payne's first thought was for his wife, who was especially vulnerable given her limited mobility. "I just raced over to the house to see about Dot." Despite the damage to both his home and his business, Roy Payne said he planned to re-open Ye Olde Flower Shoppe the next day. "I've got a delivery coming in tomorrow, and I feel blessed that no one was harmed."

The Bennett sisters, Cathy and Cheryl, also said they feel lucky, despite the fact that two chimneys were destroyed on the home they share with their aging father. "Daddy had just stepped out for a walk, holding onto his wheelchair when the chinmeys crashed," Cheryl said, "so we're real blessed he wasn't hurt." The sisters are both in their mid-fifties -- Cheryl Bennett lives on disability payments and Kathy Bennett is a substitute teacher.

Kathy said a fireman had visited the house to ensure no one was hurt, but she had yet to receive an assessment of the structural damage to her home. "There are huge chunks of plaster that fell out of the walls," she explained, "but what really worries me is the ceiling. There are lots of pieces falling out there, too." Both the Bennetts and the Paynes said electrical power had been restored shortly after the quake.

One cause for concern in Mineral and beyond is the nearby North Anna nuclear power facility, which has long been a controversial presence in the rolling farmland of central Virginia. The plant's two reactors were shut down Tuesday afternoon, but neither the Bennett sisters nor the Paynes said they are worried about the potential for hazardous damage to the facility.

"Our daddy worked for Westinghouse all his life, and they build those things to withstand a lot more than this," Cheryl Bennett said.

Dot Payne brushed off a question about the town's proximity to North Anna. "All the news reports care about the plant," she said, "but all we care about are the people right here in our town."