Charleston feels shake of Virginia earthquake

Erin Beutel with the S.C. Earthquake Education and Preparedness division speaks about the phenomenon. (Valencia Wicker/WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- There are few things 72 year-old Myrl Kluge hasn't experienced. Until Tuesday, the shake of an earthquake from several states away was one of them.

"I was sitting here, in fact watching TV sitting in the chair. And, all of a sudden I heard this sensation like something was rattling," Kluge said.

The rattling Kluge heard was her coffee and tea set.

"I held the tray down thinking it was the tray that was making the noise but, then I realized I saw the sugar and the creamer kind of making it's noise," Kluge said.

It didn't take much longer for Kluge to piece things together.

"I realized there had been an earthquake in Virginia, Washington and New York was affected. And, I thought, 'No, that couldn't have caused an any sort of sensation in Charleston', said Kluge.

But, it did. In fact, at least one building in downtown Charleston was evacuated as a result of the shaking.

Kim Keelor, spokesperson for Roper St. Francis Hospital said the medical office building behind the hospital on Doughty Street was evacuated at some point close to 2 p.m. when the building began to move.

Keelor said the shaking was felt and startled over 80 employees that work on the seventh floor of the building.

"They all felt significant shaking that caused the drapes to move, books to rattle and enough to unsettle them," Keelor said.

The 5.9 magnitude quake was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City.

So why was it felt so far away?

Experts with the U.S. Geological Survey say it is because of the depth of East Coast earthquakes and the position of a tectonic plate that resides on what geologists call a passive margin.

"In general, West Coast quakes can be very shallow and often break the ground surface, while on the East Coast they usually occur at depths of anywhere from three to 15 miles and it is not always possible to associate a specific quake with a specific fault," said Otto Zapecza, a hydrologist with the USGS.

"East Coast earthquakes are less energetic than those on the West Coast, but due to the coherency of the basement rock, think concrete slab versus brick patio, they are felt much farther away," Zapecza said. "The affected area can be up to 10 times larger in the East than for a similar magnitude event in the West."

The USGS said the earthquake was 3.7 miles deep. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast. It was the first major earthquake in Virginia or the eastern region since the late 1800s.

Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. The quake was centered in Mineral, Va., in Louisa County.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.