A small, yet frightening earthquake, registered at 5.9 magnitude, sent shivers down people’s spines all the way from Ottawa, Canada to North Carolina as it hit the North American east coast.

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, Tuesday, moments after a 5.9 magnitude tremor shook the nation's capitol. (c) J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, Tuesday, moments after a 5.9 magnitude tremor shook the nation's capitol. (c) J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The earthquake first caused ground shacking at 1:51 p.m. ET, when it measured 5.9 in magnitude and lasted only 45 seconds, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Now, although the earthquake was fairly weak and, luckily, uneventful damage-wise it produced a lot of panic, mostly because of the more powerful shacking, despite the low magnitude. The epicenter was registered 4 miles southwest of Mineral, Va., near Richmond, Va., just about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C., however the depth of the quake was only 0.6 miles which explains the afformentioned shacking.

No injuries or damages have been reported thus far, despite this the east coast quake managed to unleash a mass hysteria. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint say their networks were congested as the quake sent people scrambling for the phones. Nevermind twitter, which was simply flooded with millions of quake reports in mere seconds as people quickly turned to their mobile phones. A lot of buildings throughout major metropolitan centers in the northeast were evacuated after the quake, in sight of a possible upcoming after-shock, and nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Virginia, were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake.

US citizens are generally prepared for quakes, in the west coast that is. Earthquakes are so rare on the left side of the Atlantic that the whole event caught everybody off guard, which just goes to say how unpredictable quakes really are.

“It’s very unusual for an earthquake of this size on the East Coast,” said Thomas Hillman Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in a telephone interview. “It’s a moderate size earthquake, and on the East Coast they tend to be felt over a much larger area.”

“This is a good reminder that even on the East Coast you want to be prepared,” he said.

People stand on the streets of Washington, Aug. 23, 2011, after evacuating from buildings following a 5.9 earthquake that hit northwest of Richmond, Va., shaking much of Washington, D.C., and felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (c) Charles Dharapak/AP

People stand on the streets of Washington, Aug. 23, 2011, after evacuating from buildings following a 5.9 earthquake that hit northwest of Richmond, Va., shaking much of Washington, D.C., and felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (c) Charles Dharapak/AP

The epicenter is located right in the middle of the North American continental crustal plat. The area around it, however, bears the scars left over from 200-300 million years ago when it used to be an active earthquake zone, at a time when the Atlantic Ocean rifted apart from Europe.

“Central Virginia does get its share of minor earthquakes, but an earthquake of this size on the East Coast is certainly very unusual,” says seismologist Karen Fischer of Brown University.

“We are just seeing pressure build up and release on those scars,” Fischer says. “There is a lot of debate on exactly what is going on down there and exactly how quakes this big happen in this kind of crustal zone.”

As important follow-up news of the event occur, this page will be updated to reflect them. Stay tuned for coverage.

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