A magnitude 5.8 earthquake rocked the East Coast, one of the most powerful ever recorded in that region, prompting evacuations at the Pentagon, White House and Capitol. The tremors, which were felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City, sent people flooding into the streets. Cell phone reception failed as people tried to get in touch with friends and family to figure out what was happening. For many, it was their first time experiencing an earthquake.
"I've never felt an earthquake before," says Joao Costa, a Yahoo! News editor in New York City. "The office building shook for about 15 seconds. Jokingly, I yelled out 'quake!' and my colleagues laughed. Some got up and looked at the ceiling, after all, a week before a big chunk had fallen on Dan Gross's desk. It took about a second to realize that it really was a quake, and had nothing to do with the construction on the top floor. Then I saw the news alerts."
Mark Pesavento, a Yahoo! Sports blog editor who lives in northwest D.C. felt the tremor as he worked from home.
"Our house shook violently for 15-20 seconds with lighter shaking for maybe another 5-10 seconds," he says. "My monitor was shaking, the walls, I could see the ceiling moving. At first I thought it was a truck going by on the major street our house sits on, but I used to live in Los Angeles, and as soon as I heard no truck, I knew exactly what it was and ducked under my office desk. Our landline phone was down for about a half hour, [but] is back now. Cell service was also unavailable in the immediate aftermath. My wife's office was evacuated, as were several other offices in D.C. [I'm told.]"
While state buildings were being evacuated, some are going about their business as usual, says Phil Pruitt, a Yahoo! Politics editor.
"All streets right around the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court building, Library of Congress, and House and Senate office buildings are closed. Metro is closed too," he says. "The Capitol is not expected to open again today, according to Capitol police. Sounds of sirens are everywhere, plus building alarms. People however are just walking around, and Lincoln Park just blocks from Capitol has the usual number of parents and strollers and dogs. Looks like a typical Friday August afternoon.
Pruitt also saw how others reacted at the East Potomac Park Golf Club House.
"People in [the club house] came flying out of the building and everybody on the porch and around the building were all shouting, 'Did you feel that?' One man shouted, 'I hope nothing got hit,' apparently thinking of a terrorist attack,' he says. "Another man in a van in the parking lot said he jumped out, that it felt like somebody was on the back jumping up and down. And two women walking through the parking lot were overheard [saying], 'We had only had one beer. I didn't know what that was!'"
Erin Wright, a Yahoo! Philadelphia editor took to social media to see what people were saying about the quake and reported it in an on-the-scene live blog.
"DID WE JUST LIVETWEET AN EARTHQUAKE?"
"Whoa ... anyone feel that?"
"My building just shook ..."
"This is Philly! Philly?! What the — is going on?"
"Sitting through earthquakes — not my job description," one person groused on Facebook.
"Those [in] D.C. seemed to be the most shaken up — literally — being so close to the epicenter of the quake," she wrote in the blog. "Communications were down, too, as emergency switchboards were jammed with people calling to ask just what the heck was going on.
"So far, no reports of injuries or damages. In Philly, the Comcast Center is closed and all City Council employees sent home for the day. SEPTA is running behind schedule (usually don't need an earthquake for that to happen). Things seem to be going back to normal in New York, too."
At the Pentagon, the tremors caused some people to wonder if they were being attacked.
"No one had a clue what was going on," says Luis Martinez, an ABC News Pentagon Producer. "Some of my veteran colleagues were here when a plane struck the building on 9/11 and have described the experience as similar to being in an earthquake. As the hallway continued to shake, I could see from some of their expressions that some were thinking that the building was once again under attack," he says.
"I yelled out that my wife had felt the same shaking and that it must be an earthquake. The rumbling noise became louder and the hallway was visibly shaking. Not waiting for an evacuation order, reporters and press officers streamed out of the building to designated fire alarm areas. Then just as quickly as it had started, it was all over. In the next 20 minutes overhead announcements told Pentagon employees that safety officers were inspecting the building for any damage and in the end there was only minor flooding from a burst water pipe."
George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America, heard about the quake just seconds before he too felt it.
"It all happened at once. Just as my blackberry buzzed with the first email from D.C., our Senior Producer, Eric Sherling, jumped from his chair with the news: 'There's an earthquake in the Capitol.' I could hear Eric running to my office, but thought it was strange that I could feel it too," he says. "That, of course, is when I realized that the earthquake had reached us too. So I grabbed my blackberry, and a tie, before heading downstairs for our special report."
For reporters traveling with President Obama on Martha's Vineyard, the news of the quake also got to them just before the tremors hit.
"Talk about early warning," says ABC New correspondent, David Kerley. "The majority of the White House press corps, camped out at a hotel at Martha's Vineyard, keeps a close eye on our computers and emails. At the ABC table, we started seeing emails from our colleagues in D.C. that they were feeling a quake. Seconds — I mean seconds later — the meeting room we are in starts to roll and sway...And it lasted for a good 15 seconds or more," he says.
"A piece of crystal hanging from a light swings back and forth. The producer I am working with didn't believe it at first, but soon realized it was a quake. The President was playing golf at the time. Two reporters at the golf course felt the quake, another didn't. A White House staffer who was there too, just told me he didn't feel it either. Waiting to hear what the President felt, and for the aftershocks."