New York earthquake: Panic in streets as surprise quake hits

People frantically checked their phones in TriBeCa after evacuating for the quake.

New Yorkers fled skyscrapers in a panic yesterday, after feeling their office floors shake and desks sway.

Yesterday’s 5.8 earthquake, which originated in Virginia, shook buildings from uptown to Wall Street, where the Trump Tower was evacuated and closed for the afternoon.

Within weeks of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the quake also brought back unpleasant reminders of a city in crisis — tied-up phone lines, a lack of information and worries that the shaking might have been from a bomb.

Stockbroker John-Paul Yezzo said he immediately thought it was a terror strike.

“I was like, holy crap, hopefully this isn’t an attack,” he told Metro. “The immediate thought was 9/11. You can’t not think about it.”

Under his desk, he said, the floor was shaking. “There was panic in my office. You could see some terrified faces.”

“I wasn’t scared but I heard people saying they thought it was something like 9/11, since we’re so close to the anniversary,” said Gavin Singh, 31, who works on Wall Street.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced only two reports of damage, both minimal and both in Brooklyn: a partial collapse of a chimney and the other a damaged building on Fourth Avenue.

Safer in a high-rise?

Whether they were on the eighth floor or the 58th, many New Yorkers were terrified to be trapped inside high-rises during yesterday’s tremble.

But a modern high-rise may actually be safer than a smaller building, says Jerry Hajjar, chair of the engineering department at Northeastern University.

“High-rises are built to sway more on a regular basis due to wind,” said Hajjar. “Compared to an old two- or four-story masonry walk-up … those are much stiffer,” and more susceptible to damage from a quake, he said.

For example, a new 30-story building is designed to sway back and forth about 9 inches. It’s not uncommon for buildings taller than 50 stories to sway a few feet, he said. 

What to do if you’re in a high-rise

What to do if you’re in a high-rise and an earthquake hits?

“I would get under a desk so things don’t fall on you,” said Larry Brown, a Cornell University seismology professor. “Book cases, falling lamps, get away from those things.”

As far as fleeing the building itself, in a serious quake you likely won’t have time to get outside, said Brown, especially if you’re high up.

“You obviously don’t want to get in the elevator but it may not be a bad idea to go down the stairwell because stairwells are reinforced,” he said. “In an urban environment, you are actually safer inside than out because of falling glass.”

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.


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