A 5.8 magnitude earthquake emanating out of Virginia hit Baltimore County and much of the East Coast shortly before 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23, shaking large buildings and causing Baltimore County government buildings to be evacuated.
No significant damage has been reported in the county, but fire officials are responding to people stuck in elevators around the county, said Don Mohler, a county spokesman.
For that reason, people in the county are urged to use stairs instead of elevators, in case of aftershocks, Mohler said.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which at one point raised the level of the earthquake to a 5.9 magnitude before lowering it back to 5.8, the earthquake hit near the town of Mineral, Va.
Reports of associated trembles have since come from as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Boston.
Mohler, who is chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said he was on the phone with Chris McCollum, executive director of the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture in Hunt Valley, when McCollum noticed shaking there.
"He said, 'Don, I gotta go,' and as soon as he said that, I said, 'I know why. We're having an earthquake,' so it was pretty widespread," Mohler said.
"It wasn't very long, but it clearly shook some buildings, shook some windows," he said. "People knew what was happening, so at that point we evacuated."
Kamenetz is on vacation with his family in Ocean City, but was immediately in touch with senior members of his administration following news of the earthquake, Mohler said.
Many buildings, including The Baltimore Sun building in downtown Baltimore, were evacuated. Mohler said county buildings were evacuated shortly before 2 p.m. so fire and public works teams could assess possible gas leaks or structural damage — neither of which were found.
County government employees were allowed back inside at about 2:40 p.m. Supervisors were told by senior adminstrators to allow liberal leave to non-essential county employees who were "nervous or worried about themselves or family members," Mohler said.
Also at 2:40 p.m., Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for Baltimore County police, fire, and emergency management, tweeted from @BACOEmergency the official Baltimore County Emergency Management Twitter account, that there had been no reports of significant damage at that time.
Armacost also said that the county's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has activated its Emergency Operations Center, and emergency management officials are "monitoring the situation."
Armacost said there were no reports of serious damage to any buildings, gas or water lines.
There was a report of a fallen chimney in Catonsville, but this was not confirmed.
At the Target Store in White Marsh, manager O.J. Keller said a few ceiling tiles fell, but otherwise there was no damage and no one was hurt. He said "we were able to continue operating," and the store was not evacuated.
County inspectors checked out local hospitals and county buildings and found no problems, Armacost said. She said there were 60 scattered power outages reported by BGE, but it was not clear if these were related to the quake.
County buildings were evacuated after the earthquake, Armacost said. She said non-essential county employees — everyone other than police, fire and public works employees — were told they could take the day as "liberal leave," meaning they could take a vacation day and have the day off.
The Circuit Court was evacuated after the quake, and public business ceased after that. Armacost was not sure if employees returned to the building. No one was answering the phone at the courthouse in the afternoon.
Clem Kaikis, owner of Paul's restaurant in Arbutus, said he was outside the restaurant supervising a repainting job on the rails outside the place when the quake hit. He noticed the front windows seemed to be buckling.