Residents and office workers — and even pigeons — in Brooklyn were rattled by the Tuesday’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake, which was centered in Louisa, Virginia and was felt up and down the East Coast around 1:50 p.m.
Many Downtown Brooklyn government and private office buildings were evacuated, at least temporarily, and people at Coney Island and Brighton Beach started running from the water to the shore.
Brooklyn didn’t suffer much serious building damage, fire or utility outages, however. That was the word from Chris Gilbride, press representative of the Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn. Representatives of several of the borough’s community boards, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the MetroTech BID and the Fire Department concurred. There were reports of some minor damage, including to a chimney in Red Hook.
Some people reported items shaking on their tables and shelves and their furniture moving. So many people made cell phone calls that Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint reported congested circuits.
At the construction site at 20 Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights, steam fitter John Pabon was working on the third floor when he felt the shaking. “The whole building was swaying,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Everybody evacuated.”
The roughly two dozen construction workers ran downstairs and gathered on the sidewalk across Henry Street. Steamfitter Pete P. said the workers were going home for the day. “They’re going to have an engineer check the building,” he said.
A firefighter from the Middagh Street firehouse in Brooklyn Heights said, “The engine has been running around ever since the quake. All the New York City dispatchers are getting flooded with calls.”
Another firefighter said that his wife and kids felt the quake out on Southpoint, Long Island. “My wife called me and told me she felt the ground shaking,” he said. Another said, “I spoke to my mother in Sunset Park. She felt it, too.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz, while expressing relief that the quake didn’t do serious damage, said, “We need this like a hole in the head,” and added that his wife had felt the tremor at their house in Windsor Terrace. He urged building managers to share their information on safety and evacuation procedures.
One woman who works in the office of Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge said, “I was sitting at my desk and my co-worker said she heard what she thought were cracking sounds in the walls. I thought it was construction. I looked at the large plants we have in the front of the office and they were swaying back and forth. Then, I felt the floor beneath me moving. It was incredible! I said to her, ‘Get up, we’re getting out of here!’ And we got out.
“There happened to be a cop on the street. He knew right away what it was. He told us it was an earthquake.”
Rawia Bishara, owner of Tanoreen Restaurant on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, said, “Everybody in the restaurant started to feel like they were dizzy. Workers came running up from the basement. Nobody knew what was happening at first. The dishes were rattling. Everything was shaking. We all walked out. People were reaching to grab their cell phones. Everyone wanted to call their families.”
In areas near underground subway lines, some people thought it was a subway train rumbling underground.
For many, perhaps most, people in the borough, it was the first earthquake they had experienced. However, longtime New York City residents remembered a similar earthquake in 1985. That earthquake, which also only lasted a short time and did little physical damage, was centered in Ardsley, Westchester County, but was felt as far south as Park Slope.
Many “tweets” on Twitter seemed to make light of the whole thing. One person wrote that he was going to manufacture a T-shirt saying ‘I survived the Brooklyn earthquake.” Another quoted an anonymous Williamsburg hipster as saying, “I felt that earthquake last week!”
On a more serious note, residents were urged to check their gas stoves to make sure their pilot lights were on.
In Washington, a District of Columbia fire department spokesman said there were numerous injuries, no reports of serious injuries or deaths.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep and centered near Louisa, Va., about 40 miles northwest of Richmond. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Charleston, S.C. Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated.
Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in the same county as the epicenter were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Dominion-operated power plant is being run off of four emergency diesel generators, which are supplying power for critical safety equipment. Hannah said the agency was not immediately aware of any damage at nuclear power plants in the Southeast.
President Obama and many of the nation’s leaders were out of town on August vacation when the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. The shaking was felt on the Martha’s Vineyard golf course as Obama was just starting a round.
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!”
The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all National Mall monuments and memorials. 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.
Amtrak said its trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds and crews were inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal.