TORONTO - A moderate earthquake centred in Virginia was felt hundreds of kilometres north in eastern Canada on Tuesday afternoon as people from southwestern Ontario to New Brunswick reported rumbling desks and swaying office buildings.
No damage was immediately reported and a Canadian seismologist said it's unlikely there will be any.
“It's too far away to have caused any damage in Canada but it was possible and it seems quite apparent that people throughout southern Canada have felt it,” said Allison Bent of Earthquake Canada.
“It's large enough that the waves travel out from the epicentre and they go over long distances. The bigger the earthquake is the farther away you can feel it.”
Bent said Canadians weren't feeling tremors or aftershocks, just the waves from the original 5.9 magnitude earthquake, which shook much of Washington, D.C., at 1:51 p.m. ET.
There were no immediate reports of deaths in the U.S., but fire officials in Washington said there were at least some injuries.
People from across central and eastern Canada, including residents of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, reported feeling the effects of the quake.
Fredericton accountant Jane Gregg, 30, was evacuated from her office building.
“It just felt like a slow, easy sway,” Gregg said by cellphone as she waited to get the all-clear to return to work.
“It made you feel like your equilibrium was off.”
Charles Murray, a lawyer with the provincial government, was on the fifth floor of his building in downtown Fredericton. He says he experienced four earthquakes while living in Japan, but Tuesday's event was stronger.
“Actually this is bigger than the ones I had in Japan,” he said. “It was a little bit more intense than ones I've been in so far.”
“I'm on the fifth floor, so we had a pretty good rocking motion there.”
He called the feeling ”disquieting.“
“People were out of their cubicles pretty fast and saying 'Is the building coming down or is it something else,”' he said.
But not everyone felt the earth move. The event caused barely a ripple in Ottawa.
While office building workers reported slight shaking, people strolling along a downtown pedestrian mall said they weren't aware there had even been a quake.
Nicholas Maillet, 16, said he remembered last summer's earthquake in Western Quebec, but on Tuesday he didn't feel a thing.
“I was skateboarding,” he said. “I was very surprised to learn there was one.”
Last June's 5.0 earthquake forced the evacuation of dozens of government buildings, including Parliament Hill.
But it was business as usual on the Hill on Tuesday as people continued to stop by a makeshift memorial to NDP Leader Jack Layton, who died Monday.
Toronto police said via Twitter that they had received calls reporting the quake, while workers in Toronto office buildings reported feeling their desks shake.
Stephanie Hoeg, 25, was sitting at her desk on the first floor of her office building near Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto when the quake hit.
She felt “an uncontrollable shaking that I couldn't stop even by holding my desk, almost like someone was at the other end of my desk shaking it as hard as they could,” she said in an email.
Some books and papers fell off her desk, she added, and the quake lasted for about 20 to 30 seconds.
The quake was also felt in Montreal.
Andre Gulko works at the small L'Hotel in the city's business district. He says a huge painting, which is worth $1.5 million, shook briefly in the lobby of the boutique hotel.
“I was at the reception, I didn't really feel a shaking, but I saw the picture shaking and I found that a bit strange,” he said. “It's the most expensive one that we have.”
Sophie Gravel, who works at the security desk of the 47-storey Montreal Stock Exchange Tower, says she received several calls from people on the upper floors of the building.
“Three people called down to tell me they felt the floor shaking,” she said. “And they then heard the news about the quake on TV.”
In Lasalle, Ont., near Windsor, Maria Pratt was sitting at the table with her laptop when she started to get dizzy.
“And I'm looking around I said 'Oh my goodness the house is swaying back and forth,”' she told CKLW radio.
“When your house is going back and forth you grab the kids from the basement and bring them upstairs and try to leave the house. I just got scared and that was my first instinct.”
The quake was also felt as far north as Sudbury, Ont., where some government buildings and a mall were evacuated as a precaution.
Social media sites lit up with first-hand accounts of the earthquake from people from Canada and the U.S.
“Felt that earthquake here in Toronto,” said one person. “Was on the 4th floor and the building was shaking for a while.”
“Felt earthquake here in Montreal-in 20th flr apt of concrete building downtown-thought I was just getting dizzy-was scary!” said another tweet.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was 800 metres deep. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
It was centred northwest of Richmond, the capital of Virginia, and south of Washington but tremors were also felt in New York City and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
U.S. President Barack Obama and many other U.S. leaders were out of town on August vacation when the quake struck. The shaking was felt on the Martha's Vineyard golf course as Obama was just starting a round.
At the Pentagon in northern Virginia, a low rumbling built and built to the point that the building was shaking. People ran into the corridors of the government's biggest building and as the shaking continued there were shouts of “Evacuate! Evacuate!”
The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all National Mall monuments and memorials. At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. Authorities announced it was an earthquake and all flights were put on hold.
In New York, the 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building. Court officers were not letting people back in.