Earthquake shakes up folks in D.C.

I was sitting in the office just before 2 p.m. today, when the floor started vibrating. So 10 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be someone using one of those electronic dolly carts to make a big delivery.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 20 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be a big truck outside.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 25 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “They don’t have earthquakes in Washington, do they?”

Then there was a big jolt and the building moved.

And, right then, the simple answer was, “Yes.”

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Washington area Tuesday, shaking buildings and prompting office workers to pour into the streets of the capital. The earthquake’s epicenter was nine miles south of Mineral, Va., and 87 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS initially recorded the quake at 5.8 magnitude, later upgraded it to a 5.9, and then downgraded it again. It struck at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time, the USGS said. A 2.8 magnitude aftershock was reported at 2:46 p.m.

Our building was evacuated, so I walked around and took some photos:

Around 15th Street NW

These streets are never this packed during the day.

MacPherson Square

On a workday, this square in downtown Washington usually has a bunch of homeless people sleeping on benches about now. They had to move.

Lafayette Park

Everywhere you looked, there were people standing outside of office buildings, even in this park across from the White House.

No one quite knew what to do. Traffic signals weren’t working. Sirens were blaring everywhere. Cellphone service was spotty, but texting worked fine. I could get text messages to family in Kentucky, Maryland and New York. Couldn’t make a phone call, though.

You train for fire drills, but that only involves one building, and you have a designated area to go to. You don’t train for earthquake drills on the East Coast: It turns out, your designated emergency area for the fire drill ends up turning into a mosh pit shared by thousands of other people.

Put it in context: This was nothing like what people experience in California.

And here’s something to think about: After being hit with a significant, but mild earthquake today, and seeing an entire city freak out, I’m figuring the people in Japan who went through an earthquake that destroyed buildings, led to a killer tsunami and ended with a nuclear meltdown must be thinking what a bunch of wimps we are.