Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5.9 magnitude earthquake strikes Virginia, shaking felt in New York; White House, Pentagon evacuated

Originally Published:Tuesday, August 23rd 2011, 2:13 PM
Updated: Tuesday, August 23rd 2011, 3:38 PM

Office workers evacuate their buildings along Water St. in Manhattan after feeling shaking from the earthquake that struck Virginia.
Andrew Theodorakis/News
Office workers evacuate their buildings along Water St. in Manhattan after feeling shaking from the earthquake that struck Virginia.

Shaken, not stirred

Do you think New York City could handle a major earthquake?

An earthquake centered 340 miles south of New York sent thousands of people running out of swaying office buildings across the city and briefly grounded flights at Kennedy and Newark airports.

It was the first major quake to hit New York in decades.


The initial government estimate was that the quake's magnitude was 5.9 on the Richter Scale with an epicenter located in Mineral, Va., near Richmond.

The quake, which hit at 1:51 p.m. and lasted only a few seconds, was felt up and down the Eastern Seaboard - as far north as Toronto.

"Wow, that was scary," said Nathan Buck, 41, a filmmaker who was editing an internet video on the 7th floor of a pre-war building in Harlem.

"I saw my globe start to wobble. At first I thought - is it me? Then a pile of CDs came crashing down."

In New York, City Hall and police headquarters were evacuated.

No problems were reported with the MTA's bridges and tunnels or the subway, but flights at Newark and Kennedy Airports were briefly delayed as a precaution.

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington after the quake. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Gov Cuomo said there was no damage to the power grid or the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Thousands of frightened workers congregated on city sidewalks, afraid to return to their jobs for fear of aftershocks.

Mayor Bloomberg said he thought his desk in City Hall began shaking because of major construction in the historic building.

He and staffers hurried from the building, pouring down the iconic front steps and urging each other to run faster from what some feared was a building about to explode.

As it became clear that the shaking was not just limited to City Hall, the mayor and his aides relaxed and began joking.

"It could have been an exploding story in a tabloid for all I know," the mayor quipped.

"We so far have no reports of any damage any place and let's just hope that nobody got injured or killed in this."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was in the NYPD's 14th floor executive command center planning a 9-11 memorial service.

"We felt a rumbling and the floor shaking underneath," said his spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.

Mary Lupoli, 64, a supervisor in the NYPD's public inquiry office at 1 Police Plaza, said she thought the worst when the evacuation order came

"I kind of thought it could be a terrorist attack. It's THAT time," she said.

The 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people fled into the street.

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