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Earthquake Felt in New York City

By DNAinfo Staff on August 23, 2011 2:05pm  | Updated on August 23, 2011 3:26pm

People evacuated from a Tribeca office building Tuesday afternoon after tremors were felt in Manhattan.
People evacuated from a Tribeca office building Tuesday afternoon after tremors were felt in Manhattan.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

By Tuan Nguyen, Shayna Jacobs, Jill Colvin, Mary Johnson, Andrea Swalec, Julie Shapiro and Michael Ventura

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — An earthquake rattled New York City Tuesday afternoon.

The epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake was in Virginia, but tremors were felt from lower Manhattan to Midtown and all the way to Inwood. The quake shook the East Coast all the way up to Rhode Island.

"My plants did a little dance on my desk," said Katherine Gilraine, 26, a writer who works in Midtown. "My heart rate needs to come back to normal."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is still monitoring the situation, but that agencies have reported no major damage or transportation or utility services disruptions.

Students stand outside an NYC Law School building after an earthquake led to an evacuation on Aug. 23, 2011.
Students stand outside an NYC Law School building after an earthquake led to an evacuation on Aug. 23, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

“I'm happy to say no injuries reported, virtually no damage reported," he told reporters at an emergency press conference at City Hall. No detectable aftershocks are expected through the night.

Hundreds of people spilled out into city streets as office buildings were evacuated following the brief earthquake, including City Hall and the state office building in Harlem. Workers in the Flatiron District felt their office buildings swaying. A press conference with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. was abruptly ended as the shaking forced the court house to clear out.

"I was working when the floor starts moving," said Pia Ohe, 40, who works on the 41st floor of an office building in Midtown. "It's so scary." 

Bloomberg said he was at his desk inside City Hall when the tremors started just before 2 p.m. At first, he blamed it on construction.

"I remember feeling my right elbow, I was leaning against something, and there was a vibration. And the vibration kept getting bigger. And people started to say, 'What's going on?''... And then it got substantial," he said.

He said that by the time he'd evacuated the building, the shaking had stopped.

"I do understand for many people this was a stressful afternoon. But so far… we’ve been able to avoid any major harm," he said.

Not everyone initially realized an earthquake had shaken the city.

"We thought it was just the subway, plus we had the music on," Robert Ziegler said about the Christopher Street bar he owns, Boots and Saddle.

The MTA said subway service was not affected by the earthquake. The Port Authority said bridges and tunnels and airports were all functioning normally. Flights and Amtrak services out of Penn Station had been temporarily suspended as a precaution, but were back up and running, Bloomberg said.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said while preliminary inspections had turned up no "immediate indications of damage," engineers have already started a more thorough inspection of tunnels and elevated structures that is expected to last through the night.

The city also experienced a spike in calls to emergency service. 911 received about 6,000 extra calls, jumping from the usual 800 per half-hour to nearly 7,000. 311 also spiked from the usual 2,300 calls up to 6,300, though no delays were reported on either line.

While Manhattan emerged unscathed, Bloomberg said there were two reports of possible minor damage in Brooklyn: a partial chimney collapse at one NYCHA housing facility and another incident on Fourth Avenue, where engineers concluded no damage had occurred.

Still, he asked property owners to do do-diligence by visually inspecting buildings for cracks and other damage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state Office of Emergency Management was also monitoring affects.

Fred Johnson, 55, said he was exiting a bank at 118th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard when the shaking began.

"I took a step, it shook, and I said, 'I hope I'm not getting ready to have a heart attack,'" said Johnson.

A few seconds later, the bank staff pushed past him on their way out the door.

"I knew something was wrong and it wasn't just me," he said.

Maria Wilson and Audrey Seth, who work at a brokerage firm on the 43rd floor of 780 Third Ave., were outside smoking when the earthquake hit. They didn't feel anything, but they saw the panicked reactions in the dozens of people who evacuated the building in the moments later.

"It freaked a lot of people," said Wilson.

The evacuation was voluntary, Wilson said, but many people opted to leave the building.

"The elevators looked like clown cars, there were so many people coming out of them," Wilson added.

Columbia University's Earth Institute tweeted that the "composition of bedrock and shallowness may have contributed to all the shaking felt up in NYC by Virginia."

In June 2010, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake centered in Ontario was felt in the city.

Mayor Bloomberg said that despite the scare, he believes the city is well prepared to handle future quakes.

“We think that the design standards of today are sufficient against any eventuality," he said, adding that he's much more concerned about the impact of a potential hurricane.

“It's much more likely if it strikes to create a situation where people could get injured or worse," he said.