Video: Quake felt across East Coast

  1. Closed captioning of: Quake felt across East Coast

    >>> good evening. as we said, this is a very busy night. we have three major stories to get to. we'll get to them all starting with the moment the earth started shaking around these parts today. the first reaction, really, was shock because this kind of thing doesn't happen here. and while the folks in d.c. and here in new york were relieved to learn it wasn't something else, a big earthquake in the east is shocking and unsettling nonetheless. it was downright jolting at the epicenter. a one stoplight town in virginia and it spread out from there. this quake was felt in 22 different states. and in the big cities it forced people out into the streets. it lit up communication systems and phones around the entire eastern third of the country. we now know it was a 5.8, but it happened in a rock-bound part of the country where it spread out, radiated out from there quickly so we want to begin our coverage of these three big stories tonight with lester holt , just outside the building here on 6th avenue in midtown manhattan on the quake in new york and elsewhere. lester?

    >> reporter: brian, good evening. what a strange turnabout it was. those of us on the east coast getting calls from friends and relatives in the west asking if we were okay from a earthquake. the short answer is "yes." very little in the way of major damage. many ran into the streets but few reports of injuries. experts say the quake was exceptionally shallow, amplifying its power and reach, collapsing walls and causing moderate damage from virginia to new jersey. and catching people everywhere off-guard.

    >> if you feel like the building is moving right now it's because it feels like we had a bit of a mini earthquake and the building is moving.

    >> some 80 miles from the epicenter in washington, d.c., the capitol, white house and national monuments were evacuated. workers and tourists, stunned by the reality of an earthquake on the east coast , as they were scared.

    >> i don't know what to do. i lived here all my life and i've never experienced an earthquake.

    >> reporter: at the national cathedral , several pinnacles of the main tower were snapped off. across the city, emergency workers blanketed across neighborhoods looking for damage and the injured. in new haven, camera rolled as the iowa caucus brought a tennis tournament to a halt. in new york 's city's financial district where the wounds of 9/11 are still tender, the shaking provoked more than just ja jitters as people spilled into the streets. the building having the dominique strauss-kahn case disbursed. the phone networks were quickly overwhelmed and twitter messages told us how far it was felt.

    >> earthquakes in the eastern u.s. are felt over a much wider area than earthquakes in the western u.s.

    >> reporter: it was even felt in martha's vineyard where president obama and his family are vacationtion. while quakes aren't uncommon in the west, this was the first quake many here on the east coast have ever experienced.

    >> i didn't know what to think. it scared me so bad. the whole building was shaking.

    >> at least one smaller after-shock followed the the main quake and experts say more are likely in the coming days. airports from washington to new york were closed temporarily, as runways were inspected and control towers were evacuated as a precaution. also amtrak service was temporarily suspended, brian, things slowly getting back to normal on the transportation front this evening.

    >> a trending topic on social media called "tremor mv." for all those in the area and were doing something that meant they didn't feel it everyone in the eastern third were asking you, where were you when it hit?

    >> i was wearing a hard hat, believe it or not, and boots. i was at ground steer working on a story for the anniversary in a construction site so i didn't feel a thing. how about you?

    >> i can now report that the beach does move in an earthquake. i was on my second attempt as a summer vacation at my native jersey shore and the kitchen moved and since we didn't see any cast members from the " jersey shore " we surmised it was was a quake. lester holt , outside 6th avenue , we're glad the news good.

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 8/23/2011 10:35:22 PM ET 2011-08-24T02:35:22

An earthquake in central Virginia was felt across much of the East Coast on Tuesday, causing light damage and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate buildings in New York, Washington and other cities.

No tsunami warning was issued, but air and train traffic was disrupted across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

In the Washington area, parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were among the areas evacuated for several hours. All memorials and monuments on the National Mall were evacuated and closed for inspections.

Around 7:30 p.m. EST, the National Park Service reopened the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials to the public, but officials decided to keep the Washington Monument closed. After a secondary inspection, NPS officials discovered some cracking in the stones near the top of the monument. Structural engineers will be brought in to evaluate the cracks.

Park service spokesman Bill Line said Tuesday night that structural engineers found the crack where the 555-foot landmark narrows considerably.

He says the lower portions checked out fine earlier but later they found the crack. He says the monument will be closed indefinitely to keep the public safe.

An outside engineering service will study the crack on Wednesday. He says it's too early to say what would be involved in fixing it.

The 91,000-ton monument is made of Maryland marble.

At the Pentagon, a low rumbling built and built to the point that the building shook. People ran into the corridors of the government's biggest building and as the shaking continued there were shouts of "Evacuate! Evacuate!"

NBC Pentagon corresponent Jim Miklaszewski said the rumbling was eerily similar to the impact on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists flew a jetliner into the Pentagon. "I, like many other people here, thought 'Oh my God, we've been hit again.'"

The quake ruptured a water pipe inside the Pentagon, flooding parts of two floors.

Initial damage reports from Washington included plaster falling off the Capitol building and three pinnacles falling off the 30-story-tall central tower at the National Cathedral.

Image: National Cathedral earthquake damage
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
One of the National Cathedral spires damaged in the quake is seen at left.

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Centered some 90 miles south of the nation's capital, the quake was a magnitude 5.8, the U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday after an earlier estimate of 5.9.

The quake was tied for third strongest along the East Coast in recorded history, USGS records show. Charleston, S.C., was hit by a 7.3 in 1886 and Giles County, Va., saw a 5.9 in 1897. A 5.8 quake struck New York state in 1944.

Several hours after the first earthquake, a 4.2 magnitude aftershock hit in Mineral, Va., just after 8 p.m., EST, according to USGS. Mineral is around 35 miles northwest of Richmond. NBC News' Tom Costello reported that a low rumble was heard as the aftershock occurred.

Two nuclear reactors near the epicenter were taken offline as a precaution, officials said. No damage was reported at either.

Dominion Resources Inc said its 1,806-megawatt North Anna nuclear station in Virginia was designed to withstand a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, a spokesman told Reuters.

At the U.S. Capitol, light fixtures swung and the building shook for about 15 seconds while the tremor hit, NBC News reported.

"I thought at first somebody was shaking my chair and then I thought maybe it was a bomb," said Senate aide Wendy Oscarson-Kirchner.

At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. All flights were put on hold and one terminal was evacuated due to a gas smell.

Image: Children evacuated in NYC
Mary Altaffer  /  AP
Children are evacuated from the Jacob K. Javits Federal building in New York on Tuesday after the earthquake.

In New York City, NBC reported debris fell from the attorney general's office, causing a brief panic as people ran from the area.

Quake interrupts Manhattan for a New York minute

Airport towers and government buildings in New York, including City Hall, were evacuated. The 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building.

Flights from the New York area's John F. Kennedy and Newark airports were delayed while authorities inspected control towers and runways. Philadelphia's airport also halted flights for inspections.

Video: Quake halts Strauss-Khan press conference

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reported "no reports of significant damage or injuries in New York City at this time."

A mild tremor was even felt by NBC reporters with President Barack Obama during his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, an island off Massachusetts.

In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.

"The whole building shook," said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. "You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own."

In Ohio, office buildings swayed in Columbus and Cincinnati, and the press box at the Cleveland Indians' Progressive Field shook. At least one building near the Statehouse was evacuated in downtown Columbus.

In downtown Baltimore, Md., the quake sent office workers into the streets, where lamp posts swayed slightly as they called family and friends to check in.

Amtrak reported train service along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington, was operating at reduced speeds as crews inspected the lines.

More about the quake at breakingnews.com

The earthquake’s epicenter was near Mineral, Va., the USGS reported. It struck at 1:51 p.m. ET.

In Mineral, the roof of the town hall collapsed in the quake.

Video: Quake victim: 'My walls were cracking' (on this page)

East Coast earthquakes are far less common than in the West, but they tend to be felt over a broad area. That's because the crust is not as mangled and fractured, allowing seismic waves to travel without interruption.

"The waves are able to reverberate and travel pretty happily out for miles," said USGS seismologist Susan Hough.

At NBC's Washington bureau, it took a few seconds for staffers to realize what was going on, with people asking one another if it was an earthquake.

No alarms sounded but people then began rushing out, congregating in front of the building as they would for a fire drill.

PhotoBlog: Quake felt across East

Outside the building, people tried making calls, but no one could get service.

Next door, staffers for the Department of Homeland Security evacuated their building.

"I was probably in three earthquakes in Los Angeles," said NBC news producer Mark Miano, "and this was by far the strongest I’ve ever felt."

Small quake has big reach

The D.C. area last felt an earthquake on July 16, 2010, when a 3.6 magnitude quake struck.

The USGS said the quake was not related to one in Colorado on Monday.

The Associated Press, Reuters as well as NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and msnbc.com's Kara Kearns contributed to this report.

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