An unusually strong and shallow earthquake struck the U.S. East Coast and Canada on Tuesday, shaking buildings in several cities and delaying flights in New York. There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries from the 5.9 magnitude quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was centered in Mineral, Virginia, at a very shallow depth of 0.6 mile.
The Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol evacuated in Washington, and thousands of panicked office workers scurried into the streets of the city after the lunchtime quake, which sent items crashing to the floor from store and office shelves.
“We were rocking,” said Larry Beach, who works at the U.S. Agency for International Development in downtown Washington, 83 miles from the quake’s epicenter. “It was definitely significant.” (Reuters)
Television monitors and lights swayed for about 30 seconds as the quake rumbled away, and the mobile phone network showed intermittent service for some time afterwards.
“When it started, it felt like someone was moving furniture next door,” Peter Walker told the BBC from Washington. “Things began to shake even more and so everyone rushed out into the corridor. The alarm went off and the building was evacuated. After an hour we were all sent home. There are traffic jams all over the city. The metro is really crowded and so many people are walking or cycling home.” (BBC)
At the National Cathedral in north-west Washington, the highest building in the U.S. capital city, three pinnacles in the central tower snapped off and a fourth was leaning. The 30-storey high central tower suffered minor structural damage. Also, the embassy of Ecuador was reported to have suffered major damage.
“I thought it was a big truck going down the street at first until the building started to sway,” said CBC associate producer Caroline Laurin, who works in the CBC’s Washington bureau. “Then we all laughed nervously.” (CBC)
In Charleston, West Virginia, hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building. “The whole building shook,” a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court said. “You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own.” (BBC)
Earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 to 6 usually cause slight damage to buildings and other structures.
In New York, the tremors prompted evacuations of courthouses, City Hall and halted work at the World Trade Center construction site. Control towers at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were also evacuated, and flights were delayed while authorities inspected control towers and runways. “We’re going to hope to resume operations. We are talking hours, not longer,” a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. (Reuters)
It was not immediately clear if there was any damage or injuries in New York, but fire departments and police officials in Dutchess County, north of New York City, reported structural damage to some buildings. “We’re getting a lot of calls on buildings shaking but there’s no report of any structural damage at this time. Just panicked people calling about buildings shaking,” a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said. (Reuters)
The AFP news agency said procedures put in place after the 9/11 attacks were activated in New York when the quake hit. Police guided people to local parks and away from tall buildings. One witness told AFP she saw a Wall Street skyscraper “shaking like a turning fork.” (BBC) Another said the 20th floor of the court building he was on “shook like mad” and that everyone was scared. (BBC) Fatima Richardson, 28, who was sitting on the steps of the courthouse said: “You could see the building moving. I was just freaking out.” (BBC)
Lower Manhattan office worker Juan Ramos told AFP he was confused after giving blood. “I saw my cup of coffee shaking but I thought nothing of it. I had just donated blood so I thought I had not recovered my equilibrium,” he said. (BBC)
Buildings in Boston were evacuated, while a Reuters witness said the quake was felt as far away as Toronto. The quake was felt as far south as South Carolina.
Traffic lights were knocked out through Washington, and units at a nuclear power plant in Virginia went off line by the quake.
The quake was initially recorded at 5.8 magnitude.