What?! An earthquake? East Coast reacts with shock

New Yorkers react after quake: Click for more photos
The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck Virginia on Tuesday gives new meaning to the word "aftershock." Residents up and down the East Coast had trouble believing what they were feeling -- that the earth was literally trembling beneath their feet.

In sending texts and emails to subscribers, New York's emergency alert system tried to make quite sure that residents knew this wasn't a joke: An alert went out at 2:12 p.m. Eastern with the heading: "This is an ACTUAL EARTHQUAKE ALERT."

After all, an earthquake is the kind of thing that's supposed to happen in Los Angeles. But not New York City. Or Boston. Or Washington, D.C. Or North Carolina. (There were a smattering of reports that the quake was felt in Ohio and even Ontario.) Yet, up and down the East Coast on Tuesday people reacted with outright shock and disbelief as the news was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Service.

PHOTOS: Earthquake hits the East Coast

The 5.8 earthquake was centered near Mineral, Va., about 80 miles from Washington, D.C., and more than 300 miles away from New York City. That area often has smaller earthquakes, usually no stronger than magnitude 3.0 and rarely felt by people who live there, said Don Blakeman, a geophysicist with the USGS in Colorado, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Tuesday's earthquake occurred at a relatively shallow depth in the crust, which indicates a strong  likelihood of sizable aftershocks, possibly upward of magnitude 5.0 and almost certainly in the range of 2.0 to 4.0, Blakeman said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and initial reports of damages appeared nominal considering the magnitude.

What follows is a look at the quake -- and the reaction -- gathered by the L.A. Times' team of national correspondents:

The JetBlue terminal at JFK aiport in New York began rumbling, and a sign proclaiming Gate 19 shook and crashed to the ground when the quake hit at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time. Televisions hanging from the terminal ceiling shook but didn't fall. Flights were temporarily delayed. "When a quake is reported, the Tower justifiably gets nervous," an unidentified crew member said.

Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, was closer to the epicenter and described the  quake: "Yes, we felt it here. It shook for about 15 seconds and was very noticeable. There is no major damage reported here at the state Capitol, but it has certainly jolted folks here in Virginia where we are not used to earthquakes such as this." Employees ran for cover outdoors or took shelter in doorways and other safe areas, he reported.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, alarms sounded, lights flashed and staffers were ordered to evacuate office buildings.

"I'm feeling homesick,'' joked Jeffrey Solsby, a congressional staffer and native Angeleno, from the parking lot outside his House office building. He described the evacuation as orderly. He said he saw sections of plaster that had cracked in stairwells.

"A couple of people were in doorframes. But the first instinct was surprise because you  just really don't expect earthquakes in this area. ... But I'll tell you having lived through Sept. 11 here ... knowing it is an earthquake, it takes away the uncertainty of Sept. 11 that was so prevalent."

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) tweeted: "My DC staff describes remarkable shaking of the Rayburn Bldg.''

Back in New York, a noted Harlem activist, Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, had come downtown to protest Tuesday's  freeing of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. At first, she wondered if the shaking had been prompted by her prayers for Strauss-Kahn's victim. "I was praying really hard." Meanwhile, her friend Veronica Phillips said she thought the vibrations and the sound were "like the subway so I thought it was normal."

Police evacuated court buildings in the downtown New York City complex and kept people gathered in a nearby park. Eighteen-year-old Valerie Grif, wearing a gold-appliqued wedding gown, was waiting on the sidewalk outside the clerk's office for her groom when she felt the tremor. "I wasn't sure what that was," she said, patting her heart.

But of course, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, they immediately took control of the situation and found a reason to celebrate.

The sign pictured above was promptly placed outside Brinkley's pub at the corner of Broome Street and Cleveland Place. After the earthquake struck, "Everyone was coming down from all the buildings, and we decided they needed to calm down with some local beer," said Rakhi Patel, Brinkley's hostess. Usually a local beer is $7. But this called for happy hour prices: $5.

ALSO:

Quake damages National Cathedral

Quake may be strongest in Central Virginia history

East Coast earthquake epicenter was near a nuclear plant

-- Tina Susman, Geraldine Baum and Michael Muskal reporting from New York, Richard Simon from Washington, D.C., and Stephen Ceasar and Rene Lynch reporting from Los Angeles

Photo: Evidence of taking the quake in stride in New York. Credit: Geraldine Baum / Los Angeles Times

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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