Cover Story: Once in a lifetime?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Earthquake on the East Coast.  Out of nowhere, it's one of the strongest quakes ever in this half of the country.

So, where did that come from?

You know this by now, maybe you felt it.  The 5.8 magnitude quake had us rocking and rolling Tuesday.

The epicenter is not far outside of Washington,  DC.  The White House, Pentagon, and all the national monuments were all affected.

There is some damage. A few injuries.  Panicked people poured into the streets.  They felt it from New York to Savannah.

In Charlotte, we got shaky chandeliers, crooked picture frames and of course, rattled nerves.

People in California may be laughing at us. But this just doesn't happen here.  A quake of this magnitude is a once in a lifetime event, around these parts.

You don't see this everyday.  A static camera shot of the White House then it moved.

It wasn't soon long after that babies were being wheeled out of buildings in D.C.  People were being evacuated in Maryland and Virginia.

And calls were flooding into our newsroom and into 911 in Charlotte.

911:  "Is everything okay?"  Caller:  "Yeah. I'm just scared. Yeah, my building is shaking."

Dr. Andy Bobyarchick, a professor at UNC Charlotte and expert on earthquakes, told us Tuesday's tremor happened in the Virginia Seismic Zone, which runs through the Piedmont of Virginia - an area where geologists suspected earthquakes of this magnitude could happen.

Underneath the earth are found fractures - faults that date back tens to hundreds of millions of years old - Tuesday's quake happened along one of those fractures, an area that rarely sees any activity.

"This is a reasonably historic event," said Bobyarchick.  "If you did feel this ground shaking then it's possibly a once-in-a lifetime for those people who live in this part of the world."

Stones fell off the National Cathedral in Washington.

Near the epicenter, parts of a building crumbled and crashed onto a car.

The quake was felt as far south as Savannah and as far north as Toronto, Canada.

The U.S. Geological Survey says more than 12 million people live close enough to the quake's epicenter to feel shaking.

For some it recalls to mind the big earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina in 1886.

Could today's have an affect on that fault zone?

Dr. Bobyarchick says probably not.

"The amount of energy you would need to transmit from this epicenter to Charleston is probably quite small. Probably would not set off earthquakes elsewhere in the region," he said.

Why did some of us feel it and others did not in our area?

It depends on a number of things.

The higher up you are in a building - the more likely you were to feel some movement.

Also depends on ground underneath your house or the building you were in.

Bedrock geology plays a role in the ground shaking.

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