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WASHINGTON — A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island, New York City and Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where President Barack Obama is vacationing.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Chapel Hill, N.C. Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
It was centered near Louisa, Va., which is northwest of Richmond and south of Washington.
In Ohio, where office buildings swayed in Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati and the press box at the Cleveland Indians' Progressive Field shook. At least one building near the Statehouse was evacuated in downtown Columbus.
Donald Stierman, associate professor of geophysics in the University of Toledo’s environmental sciences department, said he didn’t actually feel vibrations in his office at UT’s Bowman-Oddy Laboratories.
Instead, he learned about the Virginia quake from a newscast on the Internet radio after it happened.
An online reporting system run by the U.S. Geological Survey immediately got hits from people who felt the earth shaking in Columbus and Athens, Ohio and as far away as Chicago.
“It was strong enough to scare people and crack chimneys,” Mr. Stierman said about the people who lived near the epicenter.
The Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered near Louisa, Va., which is northwest of Richmond and south of Washington.
The quake was felt in the Lucas County courthouse in downtown Toledo.
Louis Kountouris, an assistant county prosecutor, said he and others in a third-floor courtroom felt vibrations during arraignments.
“It wasn’t like a movement. It was like a sinking feeling, which was strange,” he said.
The quake was felt by some in the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus while others in the building felt nothing and were surprised to learn they’d missed it. At least one downtown office tower was immediately evacuated.
Mark Snider an attorney with the Porter Wright law firm on the 28th floor of the Huntington Center across from the Statehouse, didn’t wait to be told to leave.
“I felt the building kind of go up and down two times rather severely,” he said. “We’re used to having high winds, but it wasn’t windy.”
He suspected an earthquake, and that was confirmed with he communicated with a friend in West Virginia who felt the same thing.
“We’re on the 10th floor of a steel and marble building, and we felt it up here,’’ said Chris Davey, spokesman for the Ohio Supreme Court.
The court is based in the Ohio Judicial Center along the Scioto River.
He said the building manager did an initial assessment and found no damage.
Mike Rupert, spokesman for the Ohio Capital Square Review and Advisory Board, said there had been no reports of damage at the Statehouse. The building was not evacuated.
“Not everyone even felt it,” he said. “Some people in a few offices did feel it, and others did not.” Gov. John Kasich was not in Columbus when the earthquake occurred. He was in Detroit at the time meeting with executives of the Big 3 automakers.
Lt. Anne Ralston, spokesman for the Ohio Highway Patrol, said there were no reports of any damage to state buildings and no government buildings were evacuated. No other reports of road closures, accidents, or other incidents associated with the earthquake had been received.
Obama and many of the nation's leaders were out of town on August vacation when the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. EDT. The shaking was felt on the Martha's Vineyard golf course as Obama was just starting a round.
The East Coast gets earthquakes, but usually smaller ones and is less prepared than California or Alaska for shaking.
At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. Authorities announced it was an earthquake and all flights were put on hold.
At the Pentagon in northern Virginia, a low rumbling built and built to the point that the building was shaking. People ran into the corridors of the government's biggest building and as the shaking continued there were shouts of "Evacuate! Evacuate!"
In New York, the 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building. Court officers weren't letting people back in.
The quake came a day after an earthquake in Colorado toppled groceries off shelves and caused minor damage to homes in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico. No injuries were reported as aftershocks continued Tuesday.
In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.
"The whole building shook," said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. "You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own."
In downtown Baltimore, the quake sent office workers into the streets, where lamp posts swayed slightly as they called family and friends to check in.
Social media site Twitter lit up with reports of the earthquake from people using the site up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard.
"People pouring out of buildings and onto the sidewalks and Into Farragut Park in downtown DC...," tweeted Republican strategist Kevin Madden.
"did you feel earthquake in ny? It started in richmond va!" tweeted Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill tweeted that her staff in Washington was in an "emergency location. Hope everyone is ok."
John Gurlach, air traffic controller at the Morgantown Municipal Airport was in a 40-foot-tall tower when the earth trembled.
"There were two of us looking at each other saying, 'What's that?'" he said, even as a commuter plane was landing. "It was noticeably shaking. It felt like a B-52 unloading."
Immediately, the phone rang from the nearest airport in Clarksburg, and a computer began spitting out green strips of paper — alerts from other airports in New York and Washington issuing ground stops "due to earthquake."