Virginia quake: What was the damage on the East Coast?

Virginia quake caused the evacuation of many buildings and triggered the shutdown of two nuclear reactors. Cellphone call volume spiked as people rushed to call loved ones after the Virginia quake.

Charles Dharapak/AP
People crowd Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Tuesday, as they evacuate buildings after an earthquake struck 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 Boston.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

The Virginia quake that shook buildings and scared citizens on the US East Coast early Tuesday afternoon was felt from Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama was playing golf at a private country club, to as far south as Charleston, S.C.

While the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, and scores of other buildings were evacuated when the magnitude 5.8 temblor struck at 1:51 p.m., there were only scattered reports of minor damage and injuries. No deaths were reported.

“[T]here are no early reports of major damage or requests for assistance at this time,” Rachel Racusen, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.

But life along the East Coast was disrupted after the Virginia quake. Hundreds of people poured into Lafayette Square outside the White House and into other open spaces in New York, Washington, and other cities. When the scare ended, traffic in Washington was badly snarled as workers left for home early.

In New York City, district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was about to begin a press conference explaining why he had recommended that sexual-assault charges against former International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn be dropped. Then the floor shook and wobbled, Monitor staff writer Ron Scherer says. With that, everyone at the press conference hurried out of the room and ran down eight flights of stairs.

Susan Kerbis was receiving acupuncture treatment in New York City when the walls in the office started shaking. “I thought it was a train going past,” she says. “But I am on the second floor, and where is the train?”

The shaking that Ms. Kerbis and others felt triggered the shutdown of two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station. The plant is located in Louisa, Va., near the epicenter of the quake – about 40 miles northwest of Richmond. The plant is now being powered by four emergency generators, the Associated Press reports. A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the AP that there were no reports of damage to nuclear power plants in the Southeast.

As a precautionary measure, the National Park Service temporarily closed monuments and memorials on the National Mall. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport put a temporary hold on flights. Amtrak trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds, and crews were inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal, the AP said.

Cellphone call volume spiked as people rushed to call loved ones. Isolated service disruptions were the result of the increased volume, CNN reported. And people began tweeting their responses to the incident. “Ran out of house with only a hairbrush. So much for disaster planning,” said one.

 Ron Scherer in New York and David Grant in Washington contributed to this report, which used material from the Associated Press.

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