Once-a-century earthquake rattles U.S. East Coast

 WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – A strong earthquake rattled  the U.S. East Coast yesterday, sending tremors as far as  Canada, damaging well-known buildings in the nation’s capital  and sending scared office workers into the streets. 
 
There were no reports of major damage or serious injuries  from the 5.8 magnitude quake, which was centered in Mineral,  Virginia, southwest of Washington.  

It was the largest quake in Virginia since 1897 and struck  at a shallow depth, increasing its potency.  

The Pentagon, White House and U.S. Capitol were evacuated  and thousands of alarmed workers scurried into the streets up  and down the East Coast as the lunchtime quake sent items  crashing down from store and office shelves. 
 

A spire atop the Washington National Cathedral shows damage following an earthquake along the eastern United States yesterday. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“We were rocking,” said Larry Beach, who works at the U.S  Agency for International Development in downtown Washington, 83  miles (133 km) from the quake’s epicenter. “It was definitely  significant.” Federal workers were sent home early.  

Washington’s National Cathedral, host to state funerals and  memorial services for many U.S. presidents, suffered damage  with three spires in the central tower breaking off. 
 
The U.S. East Coast does not normally experience quakes as  strong as yesterday’s. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake  was of 5.8 magnitude, downgrading an earlier estimate if 5.9.  

Earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 can cause damage to buildings  and other structures.  

In addition to the Virginia earthquake, there were nine  tremors in the area immediately around Cokedale, Colorado, near  the border of New Mexico.  

“Today we had two significant earthquakes shake large  portions of the country,” said David Wald, a geophysicist with  the USGS.  

“The Western earthquake, magnitude 5.3, within the last 24  hours, shook roughly four western states, primarily Colorado  and New Mexico, but also parts of Kansas, Oklahoma as well as  Texas — large states, but probably experienced by tens of  thousands of people,” he said.   

 U.S. CAPITOL SHAKEN  

As if a rare strong earthquake were not enough, the East  Coast was also on alert for powerful Hurricane Irene which was  heading up from the Caribbean and could hit at the weekend. 
 
The quake made chandeliers sway in the U.S. Capitol and the  floor of the U.S. Senate shook before staff headed for the  exits. Some minor damage could be seen in the rotunda, under  the dome of the Capitol.
  
Bits of paint and plaster fell from high on the walls and  chunks of plaster fell from above a doorway in the  Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The U.S. Congress is in recess so most  members were away.

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