Quake rocks Washington area, felt on East Coast

Quake rocks Washington area, felt on East Coast

August 23rd, 2011 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

People crowd Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington today as buildings were evacuated following an earthquake in the Washington area. The 5.9 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. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

IN TENNESSEE

Residents of northeastern Tennessee have reported feeling an earthquake Tuesday afternoon.

A spokesman for the Sullivan County sheriff's office adjoining the Virginia border said the dispatcher had a few calls from the public about the quake. There were no immediate reports of damage.

At the Bristol Motor Speedway, where NASCAR races will be held the next few days, employees said they felt nothing.

"We didn't know anything about it until reporters started calling," track spokesman Kevin Triplett said. Truck and modified teams are already at the track preparing for races this week.

A spokeswoman in the Johnson County sheriff's office said there were several calls "about some shaking," but no apparent damage.

In Nashville, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said it had no reports of damage.

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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.

In Washington, the Senate held an unusual session away from the Capitol after today's earthquake led to the evacuation of the building.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware presided over a 22-second technical session in a conference room in Postal Square, a building next to Union Station and two blocks northeast of the Capitol.

The session was necessary because Congress has not formally recessed, even though lawmakers are on a monthlong vacation.

All of the Smithsonian Institution museums on the National Mall have been closed in the wake of an earthquake centered in Virginia that shook the nation's capital.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough tells The Associated Press that staffers are examining the buildings for damage, and no injuries were reported.

Clough, who is an earthquake engineer, says a main concern is the Smithsonian Castle, the red, gothic-style building that was constructed in 1857.

He says he was meeting with his staff when they felt the floor move.

Clough says there are some minor cracks and broken glass in the castle. There are also reports of damage at two Smithsonian facilities in suburban Maryland that do not receive visitors.

The National Zoo is also closed.

Cell phone and landline customers experienced connection problems after today's earthquake, but there were no immediate reports of trouble for police and rescue workers.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile did not immediately report infrastructure damage, although representatives said their networks were congested as the quake sent people scrambling for their phones.

"There were tremors, and everyone decided to call and say, 'Did you feel it?'" Verizon Wireless spokesman Tom Pica said.

The congestion was reminiscent, on a much smaller scale, to the frenzy that clogged cellular networks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Police and rescue workers now have priority phones that can get through even when there's a flurry of calls.

Still, the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked people to use text messaging or email for a few hours after the Tuesday quake to keep lines open for emergency responders.

Sprint said some customers might be experiencing delays, but spokesman John Taylor said the company had received no reports of problems from emergency personnel. A District of Columbia police spokesman said officers did not have problems responding to calls.

Pica said there was no damage to the Verizon's equipment. He said the crush of phone calls made it hard for some customers to get through for about 20 minutes after the quake, but he said the congestion appeared to be clearing later in the afternoon.

The earthquake that began in Virginia and sent tremors as far north as New York briefly threatened to reverse Tuesday's stock rally. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 60 points soon after the quake hit, but quickly recovered. The Dow is up 270 points, or 2.5 percent, shortly before the close.

Lou Pastina, head of operations at the New York Stock Exchange, said the street-level trading floor didn't shake as many other local buildings did. Through television broadcasts, traders quickly became aware of the quake. Phone lines were jammed when traders called family and friends.

"It could have been opportunistic selling," Pastina said of the dip in stocks.

The building that houses the stock exchange was quickly determined sound enough not to require evacuation, Pastina said.

A District of Columbia fire department spokesman says there are numerous injuries as a result of an earthquake that struck near the nation's capital, but so far there are no reports of serious injuries or deaths.

DC Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer says numerous buildings have been damaged, including the Ecuadorian embassy and a handful of schools.

He says thousands of people are milling about downtown after evacuating their buildings. He says that if a building has not sustained structural damage, the safest thing to do is to shelter in place.

Piringer says all city fire trucks and ambulances have been deployed. Those that aren't responding to calls are driving around and looking for structural damage, injured people and other emergencies.

Amtrak reports train service along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is operating at reduced speeds due to the earthquake centered in Virginia.

Amtrak says its crews are inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal operation. The rail service says no injuries have been reported but passengers should expect delays.

Union Station was closed temporarily. When it reopened there was a noticeable hole in the ceiling at the main entrance and caution tape was strung up around a large area on the floor below.

A spokesman for Washington National Cathedral says at least three of the four pinnacles on the central tower have fallen off and the central tower appears to be leaning.

The pinnacles are the top stones on the cathedral's towers.

Richard Weinberg, director of communications for the cathedral, said the cathedral has been evacuated and stone masons are assessing the damage.

The Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church landmark in the capital. Located in the northwest quadrant of the city near foreign embassies and the vice president's residence, the gothic-like structure is among the tallest in the city. It's historically been the site of funerals and memorials for presidents and statesmen.

The international airport outside Hartford says it is accepting flights that have been diverted from cities including New York and Washington, D.C where airport service has been disrupted by an earthquake.

Bradley International Airport spokesman John Wallace says some flights turned away by New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport are already on their way to central Connecticut.

The Federal Aviation Administration website says airports including JFK have stopped flights from coming or are experiencing delays because of the earthquake.

Federal officials say two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Va., were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake.

The Dominion-operated power plant is being run off of four emergency diesel generators, which are supplying power for critical safety equipment.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah says the agency was not immediately aware of any damage at nuclear power plants in the southeast.

NRC officials are still assessing the situation.

U.S. officials say there is no threat of a tsunami along the East Coast after an earthquake centered in Virginia rocked the region.

The National Weather Service's West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said the location of the quake was far enough inland that it didn't threaten to trigger a tsunami on the coast.

Director Paul Whitmore said the center has gauges up and down the East Coast and none of them were detecting tsunami activity.

In Boston, the earthquake caused confusion and forced a building evacuation in Boston, but no serious injuries have been reported.

Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said the department received a rush 911 calls from people wondering what was happening when tremors from the 5.9 magnitude quake reached the city. But she said no injuries or damage were reported.

A spokesman said Logan International Airport remains open, though teams are double-checking structures around the airport.

An eight-story building in the seaport district was evacuated after blinds and curtains began to sway, desks and windows creaked and an alarm sounded.

Spokesman Brian Adams of the United Way, one of the building's tenants, said several hundred people were waiting the OK to get back inside.

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!"

The National Park Service says all memorials and monuments on the National Mall have been evacuated and closed after an earthquake struck the nation's capital.

National Park Service spokesman Bill Line says the memorials and monuments, including the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, were evacuated immediately after the quake. He says he's not aware of any injuries to visitors or Park Service staff or damage to Park Service properties.

Line says NPS employees are being sent home early.

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, where 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."

Refresh this page for updates as they come in.