5.9 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes East Coast

An earthquake sent tremors from the nation’s capital to New York City and New England Tuesday afternoon, the result of what officials said was a 5.9 magnitude earthquake based in Virginia.

Buildings throughout major metropolitan centers in the northeast were evacuated after the quake, and tremors were felt as far north as Concord, N.H., and as far south as Hampstead, N.C., with some limited reports of damage reported near the quake’s epicenter in Virginia, where a nuclear power plant was taken offline.

The streets of downtown Washington filled with thousands of people on Tuesday afternoon as buildings from the capital to the White House were evacuated.

A mild shake and tremble could be felt shortly before 2 p.m. The movement lasted no more than 30 seconds in downtown Washington.

Fire alarms sounded throughout the downtown business district in Washington on an otherwise bright and sunny afternoon. Pennsylvania Avenue, from Capitol Hill to the White House, was filled with evacuated workers and tourists on Tuesday afternoon. There was no panic — or obvious reason to — as people recounted the trembling moment shortly before 2 p.m.

Andre Smith-Pugh, a 25-year-old carpentry worker, was high above the Eisenhower Executive Office Building when he felt the shaking.

“It felt like the scaffolding was coming down,” he said in an interview. “It felt like a big truck slammed into the side of the building right here at the White House.”

He and his work crew climbed down and gathered outside the White House. None were injured, he said, but all were rattled.

Several buildings in New York City were evacuated, with employees standing in the streets in midtown Manhattan. Rumbles were reported on Twitter from places as far-flung as Martha’s Vineyard, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

“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.”

In Mineral, Va., a town about of about 500 people located four miles from the quake’s center, residents reported extensive damage to items inside homes. China shattered and pictures fell off walls. The Virginia epicenter was just miles from a decades-old nuclear power plant, the North Anna, operated by Dominion Power in Richmond, where two reactors were taken offline.

The tremors were even felt in Boston, where John D. Tuerck said he felt “a discernible swaying on the 18th floor” of his office tower. He added: “Not something one expects here, for sure.”

In downtown Manhattan, police officers ordered the evacuation of New York’s City’s Hall a few minutes before 2 p.m., sending Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his staff scurrying out of the building.

Mr. Bloomberg, standing in front of the grand Renaissance-style building, said he had felt the tremors but assumed they stemmed from extensive renovations underway inside City Hall.

“I did feel a little bit of shake,” he said.”And then it got greater.”

“So far,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “we have no reports of any damage.”

In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, calls of “did you feel that?” could be heard on nearly every street corner.

“I’m from California and I thought, ’that feels like an earthquake, but no, it can’t be an earthquake!’” said Matt Flammer, 23, who was standing in Bespoke Bicycles, the shop where he works on Lafayette Avenue, when the bikes on the wall began to sway.

In Washington, the tremor caused strong shaking in the Capitol, which was quickly evacuated for a structural evaluation. Chandeliers swayed and one short burst shook the centuries-old building. With a pro forma Senate session scheduled, Senate officials gathered across Constitution Avenue to determine how to proceed.

Jeff Zeleny, Carl Hulse and Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington, and Elizabeth Harris contributed reporting from New York City.