- Associated Press - Friday, July 16, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington residents are used to politicians being its movers and shakers. On Friday, however, it was the earth below that shook.

A minor earthquake shook residents awake in the D.C. area early Friday, rattling windows but apparently causing no serious damage.

And while Californians might scoff at the 3.6 magnitude quake, Susan Potter, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said it was the strongest to hit within 30 miles of D.C. since they began keeping records.

The quake hit at 5:04 a.m. EDT and was centered in the Rockville, Md., area said Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center. Mr. Baldwin said aftershocks could occur over the next couple days, but none had yet been reported. He said the aftershocks are generally of a smaller magnitude than the initial earthquake.

Police in Washington and in nearby Montgomery County, Md., said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Water, gas and electric utilities reported no problems and the District of Columbia Department of Homeland Security said streets were clear and the subway wasn’t affected.

Tafelila Pilgrim, 78, was in the bathroom in Washington getting ready to start her day when the shaking started. A plastic glass of water she had placed on the sink fell and she said she shouted to her roommates.

“I start screaming,” she said. “I was afraid.”

On the U.S. Geological Survey’s website, more than 11,000 people by mid-morning reported feeling the quake, some from as far away as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The agency said earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains can be felt over an area as much as 10 times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the West Coast.

Many compared the sound of the earthquake to trains, trucks and low-flying planes.

Debby Taylor Busse said she was in the basement of her home in Vienna, Va., in Fairfax County when she felt the quake hit. She was already awake watching television, but her husband had been asleep in a second-floor bedroom when the tremor woke him.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Mrs. Busse said. “I have never been in an earthquake before. It felt like an airplane going overhead or thunder, but it wasn’t coming from above.”

She said it lasted just a few seconds and compared it to a strong thunder strike — enough to rattle the house, but not enough to knock anything over.

Gerasimos Michalitsianos, a rising senior and geology student at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he was sitting on his couch looking at e-mails when the temblor occurred.

“I assumed that maybe a plane was flying low. I didn’t actually know that I was in an earthquake,” said Mr. Michalitsianos, who is studying postseismic relaxation, how the ground changes following major earthquakes.

Mr. Michalitsianos said he only found out he’d been through an earthquake when he looked online.

“It was a rare treat to see an earthquake occur here on the East Coast and to actually feel it,” he said.

Washington resident Denver Turner was sitting at the computer answering e-mails when he felt the carpet begin to vibrate beneath his feet.

“I didn’t know DC got earthquakes, really,” Mr. Turner said. “Definitely my first experience and not something I’d want to go through on a greater scale.”

The Washington area has had small, infrequent earthquakes over the years, including a 2.5-magnitude quake in 1997 that was within 25 to 30 miles of Friday’s quake and a 2.3-magnitude quake in 1996 that was within 15 miles, Mr. Baldwin said.

“The thing that makes this [Friday’s] earthquake distinctive is that is was felt widely over the region,” he said.

Associated Press writers Matt Small and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

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