UPDATE: Earthquake Strikes East Coast
The ground shook throughout Baltimore region.
UPDATE (4:35 p.m.)—An earthquake centered in Virginia on Tuesday sent tremors up and down the East Coast, including in Maryland.
The afternoon quake sent thousands of people streaming out of their company buildings and homes throughout the region and state, forcing neighbors and coworkers to stand on sidewalks and streets to share their disbelief.
No serious injuries have been reported as of 3:30 p.m., according to the Maryland State Police. But a church steeple collapse was reported in Baltimore City at the corner of Aliceanna Street and Broadway.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake issued a press release saying government workers would be assessing city bridges and government buildings for possible structural damages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is instructing people to communicate by text or email so that emergency response personnel can communicate by cell phone.
The quake, centered 39 miles northwest of Richmond, VA, struck at 1:51 p.m., according to the United States Geological Survey. According to the USGS, it was the largest quake recorded in Virginia since 1897. An aftershock that struck at 2:46 p.m. was recorded as a magnitude 2.8, according to the USGS.
The quake was felt as far away as Toronto, CNN reports.
In Towson, county government employees were evacuated from the Old Courthouse while the fire department officials checked for a gas leak. As of 2:32 p.m., employees had returned to the building.
In Baltimore, City Hall was evacuated, according to a tweet from City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.
Emergency operations centers are open in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Harford counties. Baltimore County has granted liberal leave to its nonessential employees. Baltimore Gas & Electric reported that all natural gas and electric systems were operating normally.
"We're monitoring and gathering information," said Elise Armacost, a Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman.
Armacost said no serious damage had yet been reported, though a Patch user in White Marsh sent us a photo from a Target store where ceiling tiles fell during the quake.
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Baltimore City police warned via their Twitter feed that "smaller aftershocks are a possibility. Stay calm."
Many Twitter users and Patch commenters in the region are reporting disrupted cell phone service.
Baltimore City public works spokesman told WBAL Radio that water customers should email, not call, officials about service disruptions.
The schedules of Baltimore County schools were not affected, spokesman Charlie Herndon said.
"No closings, and staff in the buildings are going through the buildings this afternoon to check for any damage that may be related to the quake," Herndon said. "We do have plans in place as part of the school system’s emergency procedures that are available to use should we experience any additional tremors."
Shortly after 4 p.m., Herndon reported that there were "reports of cracks in walls at Kenwood High School and Perry Hall High School."
He said school officials were still investigating to determine if the damage is related to the earthquake.
Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement that said state officials will be monitoring gas lines, water mains and other utilities that may experience problems.
“The earthquake this afternoon was an extremely unusual occurrence for us here on the East Coast," O'Malley said in the statement. "I have been briefed by members of my cabinet and public safety officials on the status of state facilities and operations. Presently, there are no reports of significant damage or incidents and we will continue to monitor the situation closely, particularly over the next 24 to 48 hours."
The Democratic governor encouraged people to check on their "loved ones" ... "particularly the elderly to make sure everyone is safe."
Most transit services are on schedule, except Metro Subway, which was briefly suspended between Mondawmin and Johns Hopkins stations, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. BWI airport is still open, but passengers should check with their airlines for any delays.
Kensington Patch reported that MARC trains have been delayed and are likely to remain behind schedule this evening.
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, was speaking with Patch at the moment the earthquake hit. She said Towson office workers streamed out of their buildings.
"My stuff's falling of the walls," she said. "It's not an explosion. People are running out of buildings. Oh my God, I can't believe it."
Armacost, the Baltimore County spokeswoman, felt the quake in the Public Safety Building on Joppa Road.
"I had just finished lunch, was getting up go to up to the sixth floor," she said. "It felt like the floor was moving up and down ... the strangest thing I've ever felt."
Charles Village residents came out of their homes immediately after the quake was felt in North Baltimore.
Regina Kearney, who owns two homes in the 2600 block of Calvert Street, said she could feel the shaking in her homes.
"It was very startling," Kearney said.
Bethany Henderson, who also lives in the 2600 block of Calvert Street, said she couldn't feel the quake while walking her dog Bowie.
"I walked up to 30th and back and I didn't feel anything," Henderson said.
Henderson said she just moved here a few weeks ago from the Seattle area, and said quakes are nothing new to West Coast residents.
Social media sites, including Twitter, lit up with eyewitness reports throughout the region.
Cell phone service has been impacted, and some buildings in downtown Baltimore have been evacuated. No injuries have been reported.
Bryan P. Sears, Adam Bednar and Doug Donovan contributed to this report. Stay with Patch for more.