5.8 Magnitude Earthquake Rattles the East Coast

The epicenter was in Virginia but tremors were felt as far away as Vermont

This article is from the archive of our partner .

If you went anywhere near Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, you'll know that an earthquake rattled the East Coast, and everybody scurried to cover the damage. There was not that much damage, but the coverage yielded some important lessons. Lesson number one: In the event of an earthquake, do not run outside; falling shards of glass abound. Lesson number two: the Washington Monument is sturdier than Fox News thinks it is. Lesson number three: headline writers have a ball in the event of a relatively benign disaster. Everything else, we've logged in our live coverage of the event and its aftershocks.

Update (5:20 p.m.):  Most of the videos that we've seen of the quake haven't been too revealing. Luckily a Virginia car dealership was filming a TV commercial when it happened, and the raw footage provides a pretty good glimpse at what it was like near the epicenter.

Update (4:38 p.m.): Here's a video of the White House and Capitol during the quake. Beyond the camera shake you can't see much excitement, but watch the snipers scurry.

And this sad photo of the broken spire at the National Cathedral has emerged:

Update (4:25 p.m.): Reuters reports that three of the four spires on the central tower have broken off and "a fourth is leaning." The Washington Monument, by the way, is almost certainly not leaning reports our own Adam Martin.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic explains why so many people on the East Coast felt this earthquake, compared to the relatively few people who felt the unusual earthquake in Colorado on Monday. You might also check out Madrigal's 2008 post at Wired on the "Top 5 Ways to Cause a Manmade Earthquake."

Update (4:15 p.m.): Gizmodo tracked down this seismograph readout from Virginia Tech. They also point out that the impact at the epicenter was the equivalent to 10,676 pounds of dynamite!

Update (4:07 p.m.): The New York Times devoted eight reporters to their (first) story about the earthquake. They did get some good quotes, though:

"Our townhouse started shaking a short time ago and branches started to fall off trees and hit our windows and hit our roof like crazy," said Bill Parks of Hummelstown, Pa. "It lasted about 10 seconds and was as bad as the Northridge after shock I had experienced while visiting in California. I ran outdoors and found my neighbor calling a friend in Virginia who also felt the profound quake. This quake was like none I ever experienced in the East in my life and I am 76 years old."

 The New York Observer, by contrast, is keeping things light. They posted this animated gif with their last story:

Update (3:51 p.m.): CNN's Fran Townsend tweets, "DC National airport using trucks 2 fuel planes because reluctant 2 use usual underground fuel system due to earthquake. That can't be good!"

Speculation over the Washington Monument situation continues. Yahoo News's political reporter Chris Moody tweeted about an hour after the quake, "Grounds within 1000 feet of Washington Monument closed. Officers screaming 'get back!' whenever someone gets near." But the National Parks Service insists "that there was 'absolutely no damage' to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial or other tourist destinations along the Mall.

Update (3:46 p.m.): Bad news--someone's car got crushed by falling rubble in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.

Good news--New York City office life was exciting for a brief moment.

Update (3:37 p.m.):  The USGS has amended their report on the magnitude. The magnitude is back down to a 5.8, and the depth is now reported at 6 kilometers.

Meanwhile, the coverage is starting to get pretty diverse. The New Yorker talked to some people in Bryant Park, across the street from their office. The Awl collected a bunch of funny tweets. BuzzFeed whipped up a gallery of damage photos. The Gothamist coined the term "aftersnark" in their reaction roundup. And on their very first day publishing publicly, The Daily Dot made a word cloud.

Update (3:35 p.m.): AOL founder Steve Case just tweeted this photo of two helicopters circling the Washington Monument. It does sort of look like it's leaning…

Update (3:27 p.m.): Atlantic Wire reader Becky Blanton emailed in a ground report from the epicenter:

I was up all night working on my book about aliens and UFOs, so I had lain down for a nap. At first I thought a space ship was hovering overhead, then I came too and thought, nah, more likely a tractor trailer truck hit the small office I work out of. It's a small end unit in an industrial area where there are a lot of trucks. The shaking continued. Hailstones the size of soccer balls maybe? The noise and grinding was deafening. I opened the door, no rain, no hail. I ran outside and stood there for a minute trying to determine what it was. Only after I went back inside did it hit me, it was an earthquake. Then the aftershocks hit - two big ones, and one small, almost nondiscernible one. I've been in a 6.9 quake in CA, and numerous other major quakes as well. But nothing this powerful. I'm in Palmyra, 29 miles from the epicenter. 

Update (3:21 p.m.): The reactors at North Anna Nuclear Generating Station have been shut down. There's also been damage reported in Washington. "The Washington National Cathedral and the Ecuadoran embassy were among buildings damaged, although there were no immediate reports of injuries," reports the BBC. "A spokesman for Washington National Cathedral says at least three of the four pinnacles on the central tower have fallen off and the central tower appears to be leaning," says the AP.

Update (3:19 p.m.): New York City is giving the all clear. "There are no reports of major structural damage, injuries, transportation, or utility service disruptions affecting New York City at this time," said NotifyNYC.

Update (3:13 p.m.): In the minutes after the quake, rumors swirled that the Washington Monument was tilting after the quake. Source of said rumor: Fox News.

Update (3:07 p.m.): Planes are back in the air. "FAA says ground stops lifted at IAD, EWR, PHL, JFK" says LiveATC's Twitter feed. And the video are being uploaded. This one showing reporters at the DSK presser running for their lives is particularly good. "I'm ok, I'm ok," said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance at the start of the evacuation. "I've been through earthquakes in Seattle all the time ."

Update (3:00 p.m.): New York Times's Mike Barbaro reports: "At 1:55, Mayor Bloomberg was at desk in City Hall. Floor and chandeliers shook. Police ran in and shouted 'everybody out.'"

"I did feel a little bit of shake," said Bloomberg."And then it got greater. … At first, I thought it had to do with the construction in the building....it turns out it was much more widespread."

Update (2:56 p.m.): Indian Point Energy Center is firing off as many as half a dozen tweets per minute, all the same: Both plants are operating at full power and there are no issues at @Indian_Point"

Update (2:53 p.m.): Just for a bit of perspective, California and Nevada have had 339 earthquakes in the past week.

Update (2:50 p.m.): And Newark is back! "Planes are flying again at Newark, not at JFK, Port Authority says," tweeted Andrew Grossman.

Update (2:47 p.m.): Airport report: "Newark Airport is closed while runways are inspected for damage." JFK, too. also Laguardia doesn't seem to give a shit.

Update (2:45 p.m.): The AP is now reporting that "damage reports began trickling in within minutes of the largest quake in Virginia in more than a century."

Update (2:39 p.m.): Cue the sarcastic reports of the damage.

Another favorite is comparing disaster movie posters.

Update (2:35 p.m.): Obviously, everybody is checking in to Earthquakepocalypse on FourSquare. As Nick Baumann at Mother Jones points out, "Tweets travel faster than seismic waves." Here's an illustration.

Update (2:32 p.m.): As a number of people have pointed out, the quake's epicenter is unnervingly close to a the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station in Virginia. The Indian Point Nuclear Power just outside of New York City lies along the same fault line.

Update (2:29 p.m.): Apparently, the president did feel the quake. The Associate Press reports that "shaking was felt on the Martha's Vineyard golf course as Obama was just starting a round." The tremors also interrupted the Manhattan district attorney's press conference regarding the Dominique Strauss Kahn case in New York City.

Update (2:26 p.m.): AT&T and T-Mobile's wireless networks are jammed in Washington and New York City. "Apparently AT&T wireless is not working in NYC after the #earthquake…" tweeted Nick Bilton, The New York Times's lead tech reporter. "I'm not sure it was working before the #earthquake?"

Update (2:24 p.m.): President Obama likely felt the ground shake in Martha's Vineyard, according to a pool report filed by Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "An aside: The earthquake centered in Virginia was felt on Martha's Vineyard minutes ago by your pooler and AP's Mark Smith," wrote Brown. "Inquiring about whether the president felt it as well."

Update (2:17 p.m.): According to the USGS's latest estimate, the East Coast quake appears matches largest ever felt in Virginia. An 1897 quake with an epicenter just outside of Blackburg lead to "many downed chimneys" and "changes in the flow of springs." New York's largest quake hit in 1944 with a magnitude of 5.8 and also led to much chimney destruction across the norther part of the state.

Update (2:07 p.m.): Everyone is freaking out about the earthquake. Buildings along the East Coast were evacuated immediately after the quake hit, including The Atlantic's headquarters at The Watergate in Washington D.C. and New York's City Hall. A few minutes later, the USGS upgraded the initial magnitude to 5.9. Meanwhile, Twitter erupted with reactions, jokes, questions and concerns. But mostly jokes.

"DEVELOPING: Earthquake turns Gallup offices upside down. Obama now at 62% approval," tweeted Slate's Dave Weigel at Slate.

"The Ocean's 13 team is presumably stealing something pretty valuable right now," tweeted The Washington Post's Ezra Klein

"So qadaffi's secret earthquake ray works after all. Crafty bastard," tweeted Neil Ungerleider at Fast Company.

Original Post: An earthquake shook the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a prelimery magnitude reading of 5.8 with an epicenter 34 miles west of Richmond, Virginia. The shaking travelled all the up the East Coast, causing skyscrapers in Manhattan to sway and tremors as far away as Stowe, Vermont.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.