Quake Jolts US East Coast, N-plant Shut Down

Washington, Aug 24 (IANS): A strong earthquake - similar to one that struck 67 years ago - on the US East Coast shut down a nuclear power plant and prompted evacuation of offices and precautionary closing of monuments in the capital.

No major injuries or extensive damage were reported after the magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck Tuesday. Three aftershocks were also reported.

Witnesses said many buildings were evacuated as far away as New York, where a 5.8 earthquake had struck in 1944, CNN reported.

The quake, which was recorded at 1.51 p.m. Tuesday, was shallow - around six km deep - and located 140 km southwest of Washington near the town of Mineral, Virginia.

Aftershocks of magnitude 2.8 and 2.2 were recorded, followed by one of 4.2 just after 8 p.m., officials said.

The US Capitol was cleared for employees to come back to get their belongings, but inspectors asked people to limit their time inside the building while engineers continued to work around the complex.

The quake led to the loss of electricity and triggered the automatic shutdown of a nuclear power plant around 30 km from the epicentre.

The quake signalled unusual events at 12 other nuclear facilities across the east coast, authorities said.

A statement said both reactors at the North Anna plant shut down after the first tremors. The plant gave out steam, but there was no release of radioactive material. There was also no damage to the spent fuel pool.

Officials were restoring full power to the site, which was operating on diesel generators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was monitoring the plant.

A helicopter inspected the Washington Monument, and it was found to be structurally sound.

But a secondary inspection revealed cracks in the stones at the top of the monument. Engineers will now determine the best way to repair the monument before it is reopened.

CNN said people on the east coast were unaccustomed to earthquakes, and many thought the rumbling could have been caused by a truck, helicopter or an explosion.

The quake occurred in a known seismic zone in Virginia, said an official of the US Geological Survey. But the strength of the earthquake was a "bit surprising". A 5.9 event occurred in 1897 near Blacksburg.

At Washington's National Cathedral, a spokesman said three five- to eight-foot pinnacles had broken from the central tower. He said stone masons and engineers would assess the damage.

The Smithsonian Institution's castle on the Mall had cracks on its interior walls. There was no immediate indication of structural damage.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the earthquake was felt "across the five boroughs" of the city, but there were no reports of injuries and "virtually no reports of damage".

The quake was also felt on the island of Martha's Vineyard, where President Barack Obama was playing golf. He did not feel the earthquake, the White House said.

The earthquake slowed but did not halt major transportation services. Service at major airports throughout the region was disrupted, but all were reported to have resumed normal operations about 75 minutes after the earthquake struck.


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