Quake rattles nerves across East coast including Lowcountry

By Michelle Jones - email

CHARLESTON, SC (RNN) - People all up and down the Eastern part of the U.S. reported feeling the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the Virginia area Tuesday afternoon, including dozens of people in the Lowcountry.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck 87 miles southwest of Washington at about 1:51 p.m. ET at a depth of less than 1 mile. The temblor forced the evacuation of several federal buildings, including the Capitol and the Pentagon.

How the shockwaves made the distance

(RNN) - In September  1886, Charleston, SC, was the epicenter for a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that was felt from Boston to parts of Cuba.

Although larger earthquakes in the Eastern U.S. are rare, when the Atlantic coast begins to shake, the shockwaves are felt in much farther distances than their western cousins.

Geologist Sandy Ebersole credits these far-traveling vibrations to the differences in density of the Earth's crust between the two coasts.

Ebersole explained this phenomenon by comparing the West Coast's fractured underlying geology to a cracked bell. When the cracked bell is struck, its sound dissipates quicker than it would from a solid bell.

Just like the solid bell, the Eastern states' dense geology gives an earthquake the ability to travel farther distances.

Sandy Ebersole monitors geologic hazards for the Geological Survey of Alabama located in Tuscaloosa, AL.

- Sebe Dale

Reports came in from Daniel Island, downtown Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Goose Creek, James Island, Georgetown, West Ashley, Summerville, North Charleston, and Colleton County.

Hundreds of people streamed onto the streets of Washington, as their first thoughts were not of an earthquake but of a possible terrorist attack.

"The scariest part about the #DC quake is NOT the fact that it's an earthquake. It's those 30 seconds everyone thought it might be a bomb," said Twitter user Alex Priest.

Social media sites lit up as news of the earthquake spread. The Eastern region is unaccustomed and largely ill-equipped for a major earthquake. By Tuesday afternoon, seismologists said they expected aftershocks in the 2.0 to 3.0 range.

Aside from Virginia and Washington, people in the Carolinas, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama reported feeling the temblor.

Today was the first day of classes at The University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, VA, about 35 miles from Mineral, VA, the epicenter of the quake. According to the school's website and Twitter feed, the school is operating on a normal operating schedule, and they are assessing all university structures for damage.

One UVa student, Alex Radcliffe, Tweeted various details of his experience, saying that he thought the quake was a sonic boom, or a plane landing on the grounds of the school. The cups of water were shaking in his apartment.

Dominion Virginia Power has stated on their Twitter feed that the earthquake was felt at the North Anna Power Station, which is located in Mineral near the epicenter. The Tweet reads "both reactors at North Anna Power Station were shut down safely with no reports of damage."

[Nuclear plant shut down as planned during quake]

The quake also was felt at their Surry Power Station near Smithfield, VA. The company will be releasing a statement as soon as they finish their assessment of the power plant.

"In Memphis, we have several people reporting they felt the quake," said Tracey Rogers, News Director at WMC-TV in Memphis. "All were in tall buildings."

In Alabama, people working in Montgomery's tallest building reporting their blinds shaking back and forth just before reports of the earthquake surfaced.

A medical coder in a Montgomery hospital said she and her co-workers felt the quake.

"Actually, we were commenting that it had been a long one, like 15 or 20 seconds long," said Elaine M. Montgomery, who was working at Baptist Medical Center East. "It wasn't until I got home and I read the news that I realized it was connected to the Virginia quake. I can't imagine what they felt."

The Virginia area has had only 25 earthquakes since it became a state, CNN reported.

The quake also put a halt to a tennis tournament on the Yale University campus. The stadium was evacuated and spectators felt three waves of shaking, the Associated Press reported.

An earthquake of this size could cause significant damage to older buildings, and possibly to water and gas lines.

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