BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP)– A 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia is felt in Maryland.
It happened around 1:51 p.m. Tuesday.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Chapel Hill, N.C. People also felt it in New York and Rhode Island. Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The quake was centered near Louisa, Va., in Louisa County, which is northwest of Richmond and south of Washington.
Fire department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright says there have been widespread evacuations throughout the city. He says since there hasn’t been any indication of damage to buildings, officials feel it’s safe for people to return to their homes.
Many people who fled downtown high-rises were trying to reach friends and family by cell phone, but service was interrupted.
There has been damage reported in Southeast Baltimore near Bank Street where a spire from a church collapsed onto the road. There are no reports of any injuries there.
“We have been in contact with all local jurisdictions and a number are reporting damage to some infrastructure,” said MEMA spokesperson Ed Hopkins. “Fortunately, they’re not reporting any serious injuries.”
Even though there aren’t normally earthquakes in Maryland, Hopkins said that each jurisdiction does have its own plan.
Earthquake Hits Maryland:
Adam May reports in the WJZ newsroom, strong shaking was felt. People went under doorframes for safety and some people left the building. Some lights and televisions went off during the shaking.
Kai Jackson reports many buildings and courthouses in the area were evacuated.
Hundreds of people stayed outside on the sidewalks in downtown Baltimore, not wanting to return to their high-rise buildings.
“I’ve never felt anything like it in Baltimore. I lived in California and I felt one there but not here,” said Johns Hopkins employee Rafael Irizarry.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” said one woman.
“5.8, that’s big. Maybe something else is coming we should be on the lookout for,” said Mark Richey.
“I was sitting on the marble ledge and the whole thing started shaking,” said a man. “And then it got stronger and stronger and stronger.”
“I was in Mercy Hospital and the whole building started shaking,” said one man. “Everyone got really scared and started running outside.”
“Everything started shaking and then it stopped and then it got really bad and I started screaming and ran out of the building,” said a woman. “It was panic.”
Once people got outside and realized the worst was over, many of them started to feel a lot better.
Delays are reported in commuter service throughout Maryland.
In downtown Baltimore, the subway system was temporarily shut down and traffic is “a mess.”
All MARC train service was suspended.
Amtrak reports train service along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is operating at reduced speeds.
Amtrak says its crews are inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal operation. The rail service says no injuries have been reported but passengers should expect delays.
Mayor Discusses Earthquake:
Weijia Jiang spoke with the mayor.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center Tuesday afternoon and is meeting with city agencies to assess any issues related to the earthquake. She announced that nonessential city employees are authorized to leave work early.
Rawlings-Blake has also sent people to check out all bridges around the city and ordered police officers to check the traffic patterns downtown and help people get home safely.
There were no mandatory evacuations but many chose to leave the downtown area.
“There have been no reports of major injuries in Baltimore and 911 is fully operational and responding to all emergencies,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
In the Washington area, Metro appears to have emerged from the earthquake unscathed. Dan Stessel, spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, says there are no immediate reports of injuries or damage to the area’s extensive metro rail system. But he says all trains have been slowed to 15 m.p.h. and officials are performing a system-wide track inspection.
Maryland state employees have returned to the statehouse after an evacuation lasting roughly 30 minutes due to the earthquake.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, says staff in a meeting on the second floor thought something was falling off the building. She says the room she was meeting with other staffers was shaking.
Several staffers said they initially thought scaffolding around the statehouse dome, which is being repainted, had collapsed. One staffer hid under a desk, and others stood in a doorway before they left the building.
Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O’Malley, says: “We really felt like it was going to come through the ceiling at any second.”
The East Coast gets earthquakes, but usually smaller ones.
The National Weather Service’s West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said the location of the quake was far enough inland that it didn’t threaten to trigger a tsunami on the coast.
Director Paul Whitmore said the center has gauges up and down the East Coast and none of them were detecting tsunami activity.
Federal officials say 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. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah says the agency was not immediately aware of any damage at nuclear power plants in the southeast.
NRC officials are still assessing the situation.
The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all National Mall monuments and memorials.
At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. Authorities announced it was an earthquake and all flights were put on hold.
More than 12 million people live close enough to the quake’s epicenter to feel shaking, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency said this quake was in the yellow alert category for economic damage, meaning there was potential for local damage but it would add up to far less than 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
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 U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough.
Police are asking residents not to call 911 to report an earthquake unless there is an emergency.
More Eyewitness Accounts:
Mike Hellgren spoke to residents in Annapolis.
This was the equivalent of more than 10,000 tons of dynamite. People panicked, unsure of what was happening. Many evacuated buildings as the ground rumbled.
“Suddenly the house was moving this way and that way,” said a woman.
“Everything just started shaking and falling. I thought I had knocked something down,” said one man.
“Chairs started to rumble a little and then all of a sudden, some trophies started to rattle. We realized it was an earthquake,” said one woman.
The State House in Annapolis doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage.
“It startled me,” said one person.
“Now I can say I’ve lived through an earthquake,” said another.
Stay with WJZ.COM for the latest in this developing story.