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Magnitude 5.9 quake shakes East Coast

August 23, 2011|By Ken Dilanian and Richard Simon
  • A map as displayed on the U.S. Geological Survey's website after the quake. The red square, indicating earthquake activity in the preceding hour, shows the earthquake's epicenter in Virginia. The blue symbol indicates a quake activity in the preceding 24 hours.
A map as displayed on the U.S. Geological Survey's website after the… (U.S. Geological Survey )

A powerful earthquake rattled Washington, D.C., today, prompting  evacuations of the Capitol, the Pentagon and many other area office buildings.

Authorities said the quake had a magnitude of 5.9 and the epicenter was near Fredericksburg, Va. Early reports said the quake was felt up and down the East Coast.

That appears to be the largest quake on record for this area.  Before today, the largest occurred last July, a 3.6 quake that hit near Rockville, Md., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The North Anna nuclear power plant is located near the quake’s epicenter in central Virginia, northwest ofRichmond.

Two reactors at North Anna shut down automatically and the plant lost off-site power, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, CNN reports.  Diesel generators are providing power in what is being called "an unusual event," the least serious designation.

The quake shook theNew York Stock Exchange and early reports suggest it was felt as far north as Toronto.  It was felt by reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.  President Obama is on vacation there -- he was golfing Tuesday afternoon.

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

"I'm feeling homesick,'' Jeffrey Solsby, a congressional staffer and native Angeleno, said from the parking lot outside his House office building. He described the evacuation as orderly.

He saw sections of plaster that had cracked in stairwells.

"I could see dust stirred along the train tracks that run through southwest Washington," Solsby added.

"Considering it feels exactly like Southern California, I suppose you call call this East Coast earthquake weather."

"A couple of people were in door frames," Solsby said. "But the first instinct was surprise because you  just really don't expect earthquakes in this araa ... 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.''

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

Seismologist Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey told CNN that the quake was, "Not completely unprecedented, but it's one of the largest that we've had there."

“I would think that leaking gas and the risk of fires would be very significant,” Jones said.

ken.dilanian@latimes.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

Jim Robinson, Melanie Mason and Kim Geiger in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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