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Georgia to New England rattled by earthquake

Office workers flood the streets at Mount Vernon Square in Northwest Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the East Coast of the United States. The quake's epicenter was in Mineral, Va., east of Charlottesville, but the temblor could be felt along much of the Eastern Seaboard. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Office workers flood the streets at Mount Vernon Square in Northwest Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the East Coast of the United States. The quake’s epicenter was in Mineral, Va., east of Charlottesville, but the temblor could be felt along much of the Eastern Seaboard. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
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All along the East Coast, from Georgia to New England, people weren't sure for a second what they were feeling. And then they were.

Tuesday's Virginia earthquake was felt hundreds of miles away, as far north as Ottawa and as far west as Cincinnati. Surprised New Yorkers on swaying high-rise buildings wondered, via social-networking sites, what was happening — and some feared the worst.

"Was that an earthquake I just felt on the 32nd floor of my Manhattan skyscraper?!?" tweeted Melissa Schwartz from the World Financial Center in Manhattan within minutes of the earthquake hitting.

"I and the people around me felt a strange rolling sensation and we all almost simultaneously asked, 'Is this an earthquake??' I said, 'Quick! To the internets!' and I checked Twitter in time to see a series of NYC and DC friends asking the same thing," she wrote to The Washington Times later.

The quake was felt shortly after 2 p.m. in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., said Jim Osborn, circulation manager at the Martha's Vineyard Times.

"I thought a big truck next door had backed into our building by accident, and I went over to chew someone out," Mr. Osborn wrote in an email.

New York entertainment writer Simon Abrams said he felt shakes on his workplace's seventh floor but thought it might have been something happening elsewhere in the Mudd Building at Columbia University.

"I was unsure if it was in my head or not until the second tremor was felt and my boss asked me if that was an earthquake," he said. "Only way we know it was an earthquake, ironically, was Twitter."

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or major damage in New York or elsewhere around the country. But Easterners are not Californians, and even a 5.8 temblor prompted fears of something worse — or at least the unknown as the quake and associated building evacuations spread up and down the coast.

Before corresponding with The Times, Mr. Abrams had tweeted, "my boss is laughing at my terror at the thought of an earthquake. She's from Taiwan," before entering all-caps mode: "AND I AM FREAKING OUT."

Cellphone service on the East Coast, from Richmond to New York, was temporarily affected, though more from congestion than from towers being knocked out. Airports in Washington, Philadelphia and New York also were briefly closed.

As far away as Ohio, the press box at the Cleveland Indians stadium shook, and a building near the Statehouse in downtown Columbus was evacuated. In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.

"You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own," Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court, told the Associated Press in Charleston.

The mass evacuations of tall buildings prompted memories of Sept. 11 for some New Yorkers. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was in a planning meeting for security at next month's 10th anniversary memorials when the quake was felt in lower Manhattan.

"I thought we'd been hit by an airplane," Marty Wiesner, a worker at the Empire State Building, told reporters.

According to Ms. Schwartz, who was working at a building across the street from the World Trade Center site, "there were thousands of people standing around … maybe people were waiting to leave, maybe they were trying to decide if they should go back to work. My feeling is that no one really knew what they should do."

New Jersey Web developer Steve Greydanus said he was on a conference call with colleagues in Baltimore and Sacramento, Calif., when the quake hit.

"My co-worker Felicia in Baltimore felt it for 30 seconds before we did up here. And she sounded pretty panicked," Mr. Greydanus said, going on to note ironically that the Sacramento colleague had never been in an earthquake.

According to Mr. Greydanus, another colleague at his office in Lyndhurst, N.J., whom he described as apparently having animallike senses, said almost simultaneously that she was "getting that light-headed feeling like I did before that last quake."

The tremor did have some immediate — albeit temporary — impact in a very jumpy part of New York: Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average, which was in the midst of a rally and already up about 200 points when the quake was felt, immediately began dropping. The Dow lost 60 points in the next half-hour, though the rally continued once people regained their nerve and the day ended with the index up 322 points at 11,177.

Lou Pastina, head of operations at the New York Stock Exchange, told the AP: "It could have been opportunistic selling."

• David Hill contributed to this article.

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