A 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook Washington on Tuesday, causing minor damage, sending government and office workers scurrying from the White House, Capitol, and Pentagon, and startling people from Boston to Atlanta.
The quake, centered in Mineral, Va., 88 miles southwest of Washington, was the strongest quake recorded in Virginia since 1897, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Later Tuesday, a 4.2 magnitude aftershock—the strongest aftershock so far—hit rural Virginia, and was felt in the D.C. area.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or major damage but stone carvings cracked off the National Cathedral, a pipe burst in the Pentagon, and a nuclear-power plant near the epicenter was shut down as a precaution.
Washington's Metro slowed to a crawl as workers checked for damage, causing backups in stations. Commuter rail was also snarled and a sinkhole disrupted the Orange Line. D.C. public schools evacuated students and reported two children had minor injuries.
Cracks were found in the stone toward the top of the Washington Monument, and the National Park Service said the popular attraction could be shuttered indefinitely, according to The Washington Post.
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The Pentagon was “shaking pretty good," Pentagon Force Protection Agency spokesman Terry Sutherland said.
“I’m sure some people were having recollections of 9/11,” he added. “I was talking to some people [in the immediate vicinity] who said, ‘Gosh, maybe something hit in the side of the building, and we’re just feeling the aftershocks.' ”
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Thousands of people poured out of their K Street offices, but most were cheerful about the unexpected midday break. The Capitol and related House and Senate office buildings closed for the day after the quake hit at 1.51 p.m. but staffers returned to work at the Pentagon and White House.
Aides reported minor damage, including cracks in walls in the Rayburn and Longworth House office buildings.
The U.S. Geological Survey National Center in Reston, Va., also evacuated its facility.
(RELATED: AP—Quake Strikes East Coast)
The quake was felt at the New York Stock Exchange and on Martha's Vineyard, where the vacationing President Obama was playing golf and did not feel the quake, staff said. Reporters traveling with the president said they felt it.
Obama later led a conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and other top officials. They told him there were no initial reports of major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities and no requests for assistance.
Washington's Fire and Emergency Medical Services said that some injuries had been reported but "none appear to be serious." Some buildings had cracks and chimney damage.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said that flights were departing normally from at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport but that some arrivals were delayed. Washington Dulles International Airport reported normal operations.
The region is not especially quake-prone, but there are faults under Virginia and Maryland. On July 16, 2010, a 3.6 magnitude quake hit the area, waking people from Virginia to Pennsylvania, and a magnitude 2 quake hit the region in May 2008.
The quake’s epicenter was not far from Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna nuclear plant, where operators manually shut down both reactors as a precaution. But there was no apparent damage, said Bonita Billingsley Harris, spokeswoman for Dominion Virginia.
“The emergency diesel generators kicked as the power was lost,” Harris told National Journal.
Residents rushing to make calls after Tuesday’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake jammed area phone networks. “There appears to be a mass calling event, but we have no reports of damage to our network,” said Sprint spokesman John Taylor. He encouraged users to send text messages rather than call, if possible.
Federal Communications Commission spokesman Neil Grace said the quake caused significant disruption to cell service. "We are also conducting a thorough assessment of the outages to determine appropriate next steps to improve communications services during emergencies," he said via e-mail.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the cell phone network congestion problems provided more evidence of why public safety officials need their own national broadband network. Public safety officials and some lawmakers have been pushing for legislation that would reallocate spectrum and authorize funding to help build a national broadband network for public safety.
Washingtonians kept up a steady stream of Tweets, providing running commentary on President Obama’s golfing, the Republican campaign and the news judgment of the cable networks. Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast tweeted: “This just in: Productivity in DC has plummeted. What, you didn’t notice?”
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the social networking site also felt the earth move. "Following the earthquake at approximately 1:55 pm ET we saw the term "earthquake” appear in Facebook status updates for nearly 3 million people on Facebook in the U.S.," he said by e-mail.