One of the strongest earthquakes to strike the US east coast in decades has rattled offices in downtown Washington and caused panicked evacuations from skyscrapers as far away as New York.
The Pentagon, the US Capitol and Union Station in the nation’s capital were all evacuated on Tuesday after the 5.9-magnitude quake, which was shallow with its epicentre only one kilometre underground.
As people rushed out of the building and started calling their near and dear ones, most of the phone calls dropped and communication system was initial down. The East Coast does not normally experience quakes as strong as Tuesday’s.
“This is one of the largest earthquakes on the east coast in quite a while, in many decades at least,” USGS spokeswoman Lucy Jones told CNN. “It’s not unprecedented. But it’s one of the largest we’ve had there.”
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep and its epicentre was 54 kilometers (34 miles) from Richmond, Virginia, and 87 miles (139 kilometers) from Washington. Tremors lasted for more than 20 seconds, sending people running from their houses and office buildings.
Parts of the White House, the US Capitol and the Pentagon were evacuated amid fears that Washington might be under terrorist attack. There were no initial reports of injuries or major structural damage.
The quake was felt on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama is on holiday. Mr Obama was playing golf at the time and it was not immediately known whether he had detected the earth moving.
There were also tremors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina while one witness claimed to have felt it in Toronto, Canada. Earthquakes of such magnitude are very rare on America’s earth coast.
The earthquake was also felt across New York City, where thousands of people could be seen immediately pouring out of shops and businesses, packing busy streets.
“I was in the street when the ground shook and I looked up to see the building shaking like a tuning fork,” Mary Daley told AFP below one Wall Street skyscraper. Police in New York herded people toward local parks away from tall buildings as precautionary checks were started.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had just started speaking at a press conference about the sensational Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case when the building started shaking. Fatima Richardson, 28, who was sitting on the steps of courthouse on her lunch break said: “You could see the building moving. I was just freaking out.”
“What a spooky, strange feeling,” said Billy Simeonidis, the owner of BareBurger in Brooklyn. “You just don’t have any control. I don’t know how they do it on the West Coast.”
Control towers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were also evacuated, and flights were grounded briefly in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
The quake was felt as far away as Toronto. Buildings in Boston were evacuated, and some people who experienced swaying offices said they felt their stomachs turn.
Twitter was swamped with users who reported that they had felt the earthquake. Mark Grimes, a City Councillor for Toronto, Ontario, Canada, tweeted: “Sitting on the beach in Maine and thought I was having a dizzy spell..relieved to know it was just a 5.8 earth quake felt as far as Boston.”. [via The Telegraph (UK) and Reuters]