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Magnitude 5.8 earthquake hits U.S. east coast

(Xinhua)

08:13, August 24, 2011

People evacuate from an office building following an earthquake tremor in Manhattan, New York, the United States, Aug. 23, 2011. A 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck around U.S. capital on Tuesday afternoon, the United States Geological Survey reported on its website. The quake occurred at 1:51 p.m. local time (1751 GMT), 134 km southwest of U.S. capital Washington D.C., at a depth of one km, the USGS said. A slight tremor was felt in Washington D.C. and New York City. (Xinhua/Fan Xia)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck U.S. east coast on Tuesday afternoon and was felt in Washington D. C., New York City, North Carolina and even in Toronto, Canada.

The quake that lasted up to 45 seconds occurred at 1:51 p.m. local time (1751 GMT), 135 km southwest of U.S. capital Washington D.C., at a depth of six km, the United States Geological Survey ( USGS) reported on its website.

The quake was also felt as far away as Martha's Vineyard, some 500 miles (800 kilometers) away, off the coast of Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama was playing golf during his vacation.

Earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 to 6 usually cause slight damage to buildings and other structures.

According to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), two nuclear reactors were automatically taken off-line near quake site in Virginia. NRC officials are assessing the situation and sending people to inspect the site.

U.S. weather service says no tsunami is expected after the quake while the USGS expects aftershocks.

The White House, Pentagon and U.S. Capitol Building in Washington were temporarily evacuated after the quake while telecommunication in some areas was briefly disrupted.

The quake also sent people spilling into the street in Washington D.C. and many other districts, according to witnesses.

According to Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Washington District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services, numerous buildings have been damaged due to the quake, including the Ecuadorian embassy and a handful of schools, but so far there are no reports of serious injuries or deaths. He said all city fire trucks and ambulances have been deployed.

The National Park Service also closed and evacuated all National Mall monuments and memorials following the quake.

Passenger train operator Amtrak said in a statement that it is operating trains at reduced speeds between Baltimore and Washington while crews inspect tracks, stations and other rail infrastructure. There were no injuries and passengers should expect delays, it said.

"This is one of the largest earthquakes on the east coast in quite a while, in many decades at least," USGS spokeswoman Lucy Jones told CNN. "It's not unprecedented. But it's one of the largest we've had there."

This is the largest earthquake to hit Virginia since 1897. It is believed that in 1897 seismologists estimated a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Giles County.

Zhigang Peng, an earthquake expert at Georgia Institute of Technology also told Xinhua that the quake was "very rare" and the reason is still unknown.

Virginia is not on an active earthquake fault belt and is roughly in the middle of the North American continental crustal plate. But it has residual fault scars left over from 200 million to 300 million years ago, when it was an earthquake zone as the Atlantic Ocean rifted apart from Europe. An earthquake that registered 3.9 hit in 2003, followed by a magnitude 4.5 quake that same year.

According to John Ebel, director of the Boston College Weston Observatory, "It's not an unexpected location for an earthquake."

Unlike earthquakes that occur along a fault line, the Virginia earthquake occurred in the middle of a tectonic plate, due to pressures building up along the edges of the plate, Ebel told The Boston Globe.

"It's more like putting a brick in a vise and cranking the vise, " he said. "The brick will crack in the center."

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