5.9 quake rocks D.C. area; parts of Pentagon, White House, Capitol evacuated

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 | 1:34 p.m. CDT; updated 2:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island, New York City and Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where President Barack Obama is vacationing.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Chapel Hill, N.C. Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

It was centered near Louisa, Va., which is northwest of Richmond and south of Washington.

Obama and many of the nation's leaders were out of town on August vacation when the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. EDT. The shaking was felt on the Martha's Vineyard golf course as Obama was just starting a round.

The East Coast gets earthquakes but usually smaller ones and is less prepared than California or Alaska for shaking.

At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. Authorities announced it was an earthquake, and all flights were put on hold.

At the Pentagon in northern Virginia, a low rumbling built and built to the point that the building was shaking. People ran into the corridors of the government's biggest building, and as the shaking continued there were shouts of "Evacuate! Evacuate!"

In New York, the 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying, and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building. Court officers weren't letting people back in.

The quake came a day after an earthquake in Colorado toppled groceries off shelves and caused minor damage to homes in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico. No injuries were reported as aftershocks continued Tuesday.

In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building, and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.

"The whole building shook," said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. "You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own."

In Ohio, office buildings swayed in Columbus and Cincinnati, and the press box at the Cleveland Indians' Progressive Field shook. At least one building near the Statehouse was evacuated in downtown Columbus.

In downtown Baltimore, the quake sent office workers into the streets, where lamp posts swayed slightly as they called family and friends to check in.

Social media site Twitter lit up with reports of the earthquake from people using the site up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard.

"People pouring out of buildings and onto the sidewalks and Into Farragut Park in downtown DC...," tweeted Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

"did you feel earthquake in ny? It started in richmond va!" tweeted Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill tweeted that her staff in Washington was in an "emergency location. Hope everyone is ok."

John Gurlach, air traffic controller at the Morgantown Municipal Airport was in a 40-foot-tall tower when the earth trembled.

"There were two of us looking at each other saying, 'What's that?'" he said, even as a commuter plane was landing. "It was noticeably shaking. It felt like a B-52 unloading."

Immediately, the phone rang from the nearest airport in Clarksburg, and a computer began spitting out green strips of paper — alerts from other airports in New York and Washington issuing ground stops "due to earthquake."

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Delcia Crockett August 23, 2011 | 9:18 p.m.

The phone lines were clogged so much into New York that reporters could not even get through. One of our loved ones was able to text in and learn that someone dear to us had to leave work early, because of the earthquake, but was/is safe. He, after all, lived through the Northridge catastrophe several years back, though he had to return home for a couple of weeks while the campus was closed at Cal-Arts where he was attending at the time. We are at the verge of "the Big One" from New Madrid Fault that has been stated "to go at any time," and as in the New York one today, there is concern for nuclear reactor safety nearby. News. Hoping we don't make the headlines tomorrow with our own.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall August 23, 2011 | 9:31 p.m.

As a Geologist's daughter (and no expert but I heard a lot from my Dad when growing up) I'm a bit concerned that there was an earthquake to our left and an earthquake to our right. That might put more pressure on the New Madrid (or may relieve it, who knows?).

I have earthquake insurance. It's very inexpensive and worth it!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 23, 2011 | 10:28 p.m.

This quake took place along a well-known fault:

Bush's Fault

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 23, 2011 | 10:35 p.m.

Newzflash: In a major speech today from the safety of Martha's Vineyard, President Obama declared this fault was inherited from the last administration. It should be clear that this is not Obama's fault.

In other news, Fox News declared the Washington Monument was leaning to the left; however, MSNBC declared the Monument was definitely leaning to the right.

Libertarians insisted the Monument was pragmatically centric, and George Kennedy apparently agrees.

(Disclosure: I cannot take credit for these puns. Except the last one.

The others are viral...apparently)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 24, 2011 | 7:37 a.m.

In a press release issued early Wednesday the National Earthquake Information Center revealed that a tracking error occurred Tuesday in connection with the earthquake reported on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The epicenter of the quake, which had been reported as being Mineral, Virginia has been relocated to UNDER THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE.

Due to the relatively low magnitude of the quake, no tsunami warnings have been posted, but both officials and the public should be on alert in the event another quake occurs.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor August 24, 2011 | 7:51 a.m.

Politicians get a little "shake up" call courtesy of a higher power and the DOW skyrockets about 3%.
Go figure...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 24, 2011 | 7:53 a.m.

@ Robin Nuttall:

No point in worrying, because none of us can do anything about it.

An earthquake represents a PRESSURE RELEASE mechanism, not a pressure mechanism. In other words, pressure has built up in the system and at some point there's a release.

New Madrid fault is a deep fault system. Because of that it hasn't been studied to the extent that faults in, say, California have been and are being studied. We do know the system is capable of releasing a considerable amount of energy during a quake, but the frequency of quakes is in question. It could be tomorrow or not for another 100 years. One geologist at MU (quoted in this newspaper) thinks there won't be significant activity in the future.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 24, 2011 | 2:08 p.m.

The USGS has determined that the epicenter of the earthquake was in a cemetery just outside of DC. The cause appears to be all of our founding fathers rolling over in their graves.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor August 24, 2011 | 3:59 p.m.

"The USGS has determined that the epicenter of the earthquake was in a cemetery just outside of DC. The cause appears to be all of our founding fathers rolling over in their graves."

Another good one :-)
Thanks !

(Report Comment)

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