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Virginia Earthquake Tremors Shake Up Long Island

East Coast Quake
People stand in Foley Square in New York after being evacuated from the Federal and State buildings that surround it Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. The 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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People stand in Foley Square in New York after being evacuated from the Federal and State buildings that surround it Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Some Long Islanders ran for cover while others didn’t even feel the tremors from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Richmond, Va. on Tuesday afternoon, but after the initial panic passed, officials found little to no damage after the earth trembled.

New York State, Nassau and Suffolk county officials said there was no damage to utilities, hospitals, roads, bridges or airports. Federal authorities said there was minimal damage in and around the nation’s capital. Although there were some injuries in Washington, D.C., there were no reported deaths.

Government buildings big and small were briefly evacuated across the Island. Only minor damage was reported to the façade of Hempstead Town Hall and a gas line in the Hamptons that has since been repaired.

“It just separated,” said town spokesman Mike Deery, describing the damage as “a gap about an inch and a half from where it previously was…” He said the example showed homeowners should also inspect for property damage.

The earthquake hit at 1:51 p.m. about 300 miles south of New York. It was reportedly felt as far north as Toronto, Canada, and as far south as Alabama.

The last quake to register as high on the Richter Scale on the East Coast rattled New York in 1944. The last earthquake that shook up Long Island was in November when a 3.9 magnitude quake struck 80 miles south of the Hamptons.

Tuesday’s tremors quickly turned into the butt of jokes, an inspiration for earthquake-themed happy hour specials—and a reminder that we are not immune, although it was mild compared to West Coast quakes.

“This is a relatively big earthquake for the Eastern U.S.,” said Daniel Davis, a professor of geophysics at Stony Brook University. He noted that the East Coast transmits seismic waves farther than the West Coast, so it is not uncommon for quakes to be felt across bigger distances.

The lesson of the day turned out to be one in preparedness. The shakeup came just as the nation turns its eye to Hurricane Irene, the first major storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, which is surging up the eastern seaboard.

“We felt it here in our own building,” said Joseph Williams, commissioner of Suffolk County’s Office of Emergency Management. “There was no panic…everybody just did what they were trained to do and just went right to work.”

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano was in the public safety office when the shaking set off the fire alarm at the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building in Mineola.

“We are assessing our buildings but there doesn’t appear to be any damage,” Mangano said.

The quake came three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which led some to believe at first that the tremors were another plot.

“I figured it was either an earthquake or bomb that went off in our building,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who was in the 12-story H. Lee Dennison Building when the tremors hit.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Indian Point nuclear power plant has been inspected and did not suffer damage. Two nuclear plants in Virginia were immediately taken offline after the quake.

Smaller buildings and homes also shook as the earth trembled from the north to the south shore, from the New York City line to the East End—just like swaying skyscrapers in Manhattan.

But even those just enjoying one of the last nice summer days outside were not immune. Sunbathers at Lido Beach fled the packed seashore once the sand shook.

“So many left the beach, I mean like a mass exodus,” said Mindy Applebaum Tevez of Cedarhurst. “I lost my balance.”

“Everybody started standing up and it felt like the Earth moved,” she added. “The waves were very, very rough right before it happened and right after it happened.”

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