8 Years Ago, a 5.8-Magnitude Earthquake Shook the East Coast

Anyone living in the D.C. area in 2011 has an answer to the question: "Where were you when the earthquake hit?"

Friday marks eight years since the 5.8-magnitude quake struck. It was centered near Mineral, Virginia, about 80 miles southwest of D.C. — but people as far away as Georgia and Canada reported feeling it. No larger earthquake has ever hit closer to the District.

Getty Images
Drivers climb out of their cars to survey a traffic jam on 14th Street NW near the Ronald Reagan Building after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the East Coast. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No one died in the quake. But the damage, estimated at more than $200 million, extended far beyond the epicenter in rural Louisa County. Among the sites that suffered damage: the Washington National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

The quake struck just before 2 p.m. on Aug. 23 and lasted 30-40 seconds, sending workers into the streets, causing ceiling tiles to fall and flights to be suspended at Reagan National Airport.

At the Pentagon in Arlington, a low rumbling built to the point that the building was shaking. NBC News's Jim Miklaszewski said his first thought was that the shaking felt like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People ran into the corridors of the government's biggest building and as the shaking continued there were shouts of "Evacuate! Evacuate!"

Viewer Pics: 5.8-Magnitude Earthquake Felt Throughout DC Area

All the monuments on the National Mall were evacuated. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and the Old Post Office Tower were closed on the day of the quake, and parts of the White House, the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Capitol were evacuated. Light fixtures shook on the ceiling of the Capitol.

Following the quake, scientists recorded more than 600 aftershocks, including a 4.2-magnitude one felt inside the Beltway.

The Washington Post/Getty Images
An angel, dislodged from the southwest pinnacle of the "Gloria in Excelsis" or central tower sits on the roof of the Washington National Cathedral following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A woman visiting the Washington National Cathedral with her son on the day of the quake said the floors were making waves. Her son said when they got outside, they saw pieces of stone on the ground, News4 reported at the time. The building was evacuated.

Eight years later, the cathedral is still undergoing repairs that will cost a total of $34 million, but more than half that amount — $19 million — still needs to be rasied, a cathedral spokesman said. 

"The work will take as long as it takes to raise the money," Kevin Eckstrom, chief communications officer of the Washington National Cathedral, told NBC Washington. "The sooner we have the funds, the sooner we can complete the repairs." The cathedral receives no direct support from the federal government or any national church body, so the funds are the result of benefactors and donors, Eckstrom said.

While nearly half of the repairs are done, the cathedral is still facing some of the most complicated and expensive work, including restoring the heights of the Central Tower.

The work being done to repair the National Cathedral is costly and time-consuming, but it is getting some help from Legos. Derrick Ward reports.

The quake also left hundreds of cracks in the façade of the Washington Monument and damaged its elevator, causing $15 million in damage and forcing a closure of nearly three years.

The monument reopened in 2014, only to close again two years later for elevator renovations, although officials said there was no single source of those elevator problems. The monument is finally set to reopen in September.

[NATL] Dramatic Photos From 2011: 5.8 Quake Hits East Coast

Following the quake, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia revised their emergency planning documents to include earthquakes. The response of many East Coast residents — many of whom fled high-rise buildings — went counter to the behavior recommended by experts during a quake.

A USGS graphic compares a pair of earthquakes that struck coastal areas of the U.S.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us