White House, U.S. Capitol, Pentagon evacuated after earthquake

A spire, right, on the National Cathedral is damaged, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, after an earthquake in Washington area. A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia forced evacuations of all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington and rattled nerves from Georgia to Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where President Barack Obama is vacationing. No injuries were immediately reported. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) Nick Wass

The earthquake that hit the Washington area on Tuesday damaged a spire, right, on the National Cathedral. Three other spires broke off.
AP/ Nick Wass

Updated at 4:44 p.m. ET

The White House, the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings were evacuated after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia rocked Washington, D.C.

After the shaking struck at 1:51 p.m. ET, Secret Service rushed people out of the White House and into Lafayette Square, CBS News White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell reports. Most people exiting the building remained calm.

Secret Service said that the White House and the buildings next door -- the Treasury Department and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- were evacuated as a precautionary measure, with the exception of essential personnel. As of 3:40 p.m., all buildings had been cleared for re-entry and were fully operational.

The U.S. Capitol police sent a message to people in the Capitol building to evacuate, asking staff to report to their Office Emergency Coordinator.

The Senate held a rare off-campus session in the nearby Postal Square building, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports. The building houses some Senate offices. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., presided over the session, and about 50 to 60 people were present. The pro forma session, required under Senate rules since they are not technically adjourned, lasted just 22 seconds, longer than quake itself.

At the Pentagon, people immediately started running out of the building, CBS News Correspondent Chip Reid reports. The building was evacuated, though officials made an announcement that people could stay inside the heavily fortified building if they chose to, while it was inspected.

The Justice Department and FBI headquarters were also evacuated after the surprising event.

All monuments and memorials in Washington were evacuated and closed as a precaution, and parks police and rangers were on the scene evaluating. "We are not aware of any damage to any memorials or monuments," Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service, told CBS News.

However, Park Police spokesperson Sgt. David Schlosser told CBS News that officers gave preliminary reports of a stone falling off the exterior of the Washington Monument. There were people at the top of the structure, and they were immediately escorted out. The entire National Mall area around the monument was evacuated and will not open again until park service confirms the safety of the structure.

The Washington National Cathedral, the highest point in the capital city, suffered damage in the earthquake, with three spires in the central tower breaking off, the Associated Press reported. No one was injured from the damage, but the cathedral was closed to the public so the building could be inspected.

The FAA put ground stops in place for Reagan National Airport, as well as airports in New York, Newark and Philadelphia. Amtrak said train service between Baltimore and Washington was operating at reduced speeds while crews inspected stations and railroad infrastructure, CBS News Producer Carter Yang reports.

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The quake was centered near Mineral, Virginia, home of Dominion Power's Lake Anna nuclear power plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the plant had both reactors shut down automatically after the quake. It also lost off-site power and was running its safety (cooling) systems on diesel generators. No damage has been reported at the facility.

The White House reported that at 2:50 p.m. ET this afternoon, President Obama led a conference call with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards with the Department of Interior Dr. David Applegate, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Heidi Avery, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough to discuss the earthquake and status of critical infrastructure.

The president was told that there are no initial reports of major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities and that there were currently no requests for assistance. Mr. Obama asked for regular updates on the situation and was also provided an update on preparations for Hurricane Irene.

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