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August 23, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated buildings across the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday after a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in central Virginia. The shaker, the strongest to hit the region in more than 100 years, was felt as far south as Georgia and as far north as Detroit, Michigan.
The quake disrupted air and train traffic across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
In Washington all memorials and monuments on the National Mall were closed.
The quake broke a water main inside the Pentagon, flooding parts of two floors, and damage was reported at the National Cathedral and the Ecuador Embassy building in Washington. Pieces fell from the cathedral’s exterior and interior, according to witnesses.
At Washington-Reagan National Airport in Virginia, just outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell, all flights were briefly put on hold, and one terminal was evacuated due to a gas smell, officials said.
In New York City, debris reportedly fell from the attorney general’s office, causing people to run from the area. Airport towers and government buildings in New York, including City Hall, were evacuated. The 26-story federal courthouse in Manhattan began swaying, and hundreds of people left the building.
Flights from John F. Kennedy and Newark airports were briefly delayed while authorities inspected control towers and runways.
The earthquake epicenter was near Louisa, Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It was a very shallow quake, less than a mile deep, which would explain why it was so widely felt, USGS officials said.
While the U.S. East Coast occasionally experiences quakes, they are almost always less powerful than those on the U.S. West Coast, and people on the East Coast are far less prepared for the shaking.
People standing on the streets in Washington said they had never felt an earthquake before, while those from the West Coast were much less excited by the event, saying it was not a cause for great concern.