Office buildings in downtown Boston were evacuated and emergency response teams raced to answer a high volume of 911 calls as a result of tremors felt locally from a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia.

 

“It felt like I was on a boat,” said Kristin, 26, who was in the Boston Harbor Hotel during the earthquake. “I’m from California, so I recognized the feeling right away.”

 

But she said people in her office didn’t know what was going on.

 

Andy Brunner, 27, who is completing his residency at Mass General Hospital, was on the train from Providence when it happened.

 

“It’s not a good city to have a big earthquake in, but I think we can handle the little ripples,” he said.

Although no structural damage was discovered, gawkers flooded Devonshire Street after reports that a building had shifted.

 

But the Moors and Cabot building, rumored to have been damaged, has always been very close to its neighboring Brown Brothers Harriman building, according to city and fire officials.

“Nothing actually happened,” said 111 Devonshire building manager Garry Morris. “People thought the buildings were touching because of the quake, and that they shifted.”

He said the 11-story building built in 1911 and its neighbor have always had a mere three-eighths of an inch gap between them.

Biggest quake in 100 years

The shaking felt across the East Coast
yesterday was from one of the most significant earthquakes of the last
century, seismologists said.

“It’s one of the most significant one’s
we’ve had on the East Coast for probably the last 100 years,” said Dr.
Michael Hagerty, a manger at the Boston College’s Weston Observatory.

Boston
and other areas far from the epicenter were able to feel the quake
because seismic waves travel efficiently on the East Coast because the
Earth’s crust is cooler and older, Hagerty said.

Hagerty said that
depending on how deep the quake occurs, the damage can vary. However, he
added that the coast “dodged a bullet” with no significant damage
reports.

The last earthquake in southern New England was a 1.7 magnitude that hit in June, five miles east of Hartford.

Follow Steve Annear on Twitter @steveannear.

In quake, beware old buildings

While building codes require buildings of a certain size to be constructed to withstand seismic activity, Boston’s historic brownstones could crumble.

“Beacon Hill, the Back Bay or the South End; if the intensity of what happened in Virginia were to occur here, I would expect significant damage in those buildings,” said Kenneth Kruger, a structural engineer and owner of the Cambridge firm Kruger Kruger Albenberg.

He said the concern with earthquake damage is primarily with masonry buildings due to the materials with which they are built. While wood-frame buildings may significantly sway, Kruger said they have more give.

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 Steve Annear on Twitter @steveannear.