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Several businesses and homes in Mineral, Virginia suffered minor damage from the 5.8-magnitude earthquake. (Steve Helber / AP Images)

An Earthquake Shakes Up the East Coast

It’s rare for cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York to experience earthquakes

By Zach Jones | null null , null
<p>Tremors spread from the quake’s epicenter as far north as New York and Pennsylvania. (Jim McMahon)</p>

Tremors spread from the quake’s epicenter as far north as New York and Pennsylvania. (Jim McMahon)

Buildings shook in Washington, D.C., and New York City. In Vermont, people felt the ground shake. In Virginia, books and plates flew off shelves.

A rare earthquake shook up the East Coast on Tuesday. Thankfully, no one was hurt and no major damage was reported—but the quake made a lot of people very nervous. The 5.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in Virginia. Earthquakes do not usually rumble on the East Coast, so many people were surprised and scared by the sudden shaking.

The earthquake’s epicenter (the point on the Earth’s surface right above the center of a quake) was in Mineral, Virginia, about 80 miles from Washington, D.C. Some homes and businesses there experienced minor damage. Schools and shops there were closed yesterday and remain closed today.

Slight tremors from the quake were felt all along the East Coast and even in parts of Canada. In and around Washington, people were evacuated from government buildings like the White House and the Pentagon. The quake reportedly caused small cracks in the top of the Washington Monument, the tallest structure in Washington, D.C.

Many buildings were evacuated as far north as New York City and Philadelphia.

SEISMIC SCIENCE

“This quake was like none I ever experienced in the East in my life, and I am 76 years old,” one Pennsylvania resident told The New York Times.

A major reason that quakes carry farther on the East Coast is that the rocky crust below the earth there is colder than on the West Coast, where earthquakes of this size are more common.

"So when something shakes [on the East Coast], it is like hitting a bar of steel, it rings pretty well,” scientist Thomas Jordan explained to Discovery News. “Whereas on the West Coast, the rocks are higher temperature and it is more like hitting something quite a bit softer.”

STAYING SAFE

Earthquakes are so uncommon on the East Coast that many people didn’t know what to do during yesterday’s quake, especially people in buildings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that people who are indoors during an earthquake should stay there until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. According to FEMA’s Web site, research shows that most earthquake-related injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave. (Click here for more of FEMA’s guidelines on earthquakes.)

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