An earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale sent ground-shaking reverberations from Virginia where the quake was centered as far north as Boston, shaking buildings, rattling dishes and fraying nerves, but causing no significant damage.
The earthquake hit at about 1:51 p.m. Eastern, and lasted about 45 seconds according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS warned that aftershocks could follow.
The epicenter of the quake was located about four miles southwest of Mineral, Va., which is between Richmond and Charlottesville, Va., about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C. and 340 miles south of New York City.
In Washington, the quake began as a low rumble and increased in intensity until it rattled windows and shook items on shelves.
Only minor damage was reported at a few select buildings, although telephone service went out for about 45 minutes and all travel services were disrupted.
Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint attributed the service outage to congestion on the lines as people scrambled to call friends and relatives.
Flights were suspended at regional airports to check runways and control tower equipment. Trains were halted on Northeast runs to inspect tracks for damage.
The Washington subway system ran at reduced speed, but did not stop running.
“It scared the heck out of me. I’m still shaking,” Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, told USAToday.
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, federal officials said.
Because tremors were felt in Washington,D.C. all the way to Boston, including New York City, some thought immediately that another terrorist attack might be responsible.
“I thought, ‘What could be shaking the building like this?’ My first thought was a terrorist,” said Sonia Spence, who works in Manhattan.
The earthquake was one of the largest ever recorded in the Washington, D.C., area. The quake’s depth, only 0.6 miles below the surface of the earth partly explains the widely-felt shaking, according the USGS.
In “the East Coast you have this old, hard, cold crust that does a lovely job of transmitting the waves,” said USGS Seismologist Lucy Jones.
In New York, City Hall and police headquarters were evacuated.