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Earthquake: Ground Shakes In North America, Widely Felt Tremors Across Eastern Seaboard (LIVE)

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Virginia Tuesday afternoon, rattling communities across the Eastern seaboard in North America, including Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and even into New Brunswick.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was 800 metres deep and centred about 64 kilometres northwest of Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast. The quake forced the temporary evacuation of the Pentagon and the White House, among other buildings in Washington, D.C.

Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in the same county as the epicentre were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Based in Mineral, Va., according to the USGS, the quake was likely caused by a release of stress from the earth’s crust, said University of Toronto geologist Andrew Miall.

The tremors were probably a result of a “crustal stretching” that began about 200 million years ago, when North America first began to separate from Europe and Africa, Miall told The Huffington Post Canada.

“Earthquakes on the east coast or the eastern margin of North America including well inland in places like Toronto are related to very, very old fractures in the earth’s crust that are releasing stress that in many cases have been stored there for many years,” he said. “This crustal stretching is related to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean...and that’s still going on.”

When this release of stress occurs, it causes a minor to moderate earthquake — which can be felt over hundreds of kilometres, he said.

“We feel them in Toronto even though the epicentre is often in Ohio, Indiana or somewhere down in the Ottawa-St. Lawrence Valley,” he said.

Though a tremor of the magnitude recorded in Virgina can do damage in the immediate vicinity, Miall said that this type of quake “doesn’t foretell anything worse in the future,” adding that “these are usually one-offs.”

Mineral is a town located about 150 kilometres southwest of Washington.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or damage. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. suffered minor damage, a spokesman confirmed.

A crowdsourced map shows how widely and intensely the quake was felt in Virginia and the surrounding area.

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.

The quake came a day after an earthquake in Colorado toppled groceries off shelves and caused minor damage to homes in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico. No injuries were reported as aftershocks continued Tuesday.

With files from Rachel Mendleson and staff at The Huffington Post Canada, and The Associated Press.

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