A 5.8 magnitude earthquake sent office workers streaming out of high-rise buildings Tuesday afternoon and clogged Baltimore’s streets with an early rush hour as many decided to call it a day after the tremors began just before 2 p.m.
The quake was centered in Virginia and appeared to cause little damage in Maryland, according to public safety officials. Inspectors scrambled to assess bridges, roads, public buildings, stadiums, tunnels and utility lines.
Baltimore’s subway line was shut down for about an hour after the quake and travelers on MARC trains experienced major delays. The Harry W. Nice Bridge on Route 301 over the Potomac was closed until 4:30, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said there was “minor to moderate” damage in the city, including some broken light fixtures at Port Discovery Children’s Museum. The St. Vincent De Paul’s Sarah’s Hope House Shelter for Women and Children on North Mount Street was also damaged.
“We’ve had some bricks come down, some walls come down,” the mayor said at a news conference after meeting with department and agency heads. “Some churches have been affected, older buildings.”
The city allowed non-essential workers to leave their posts early after the earthquake, but kept extra police officers on duty.
“We will be open for business [Wednesday],” Rawlings-Blake said.
Other employers also let their workers go home early, leading to rush hour-like traffic jams before 3 p.m. People crowded sidewalks, checking for news on smart phones and slowing cellular service.
“Cell service was basically blocked downtown because everybody was on it right after” the earthquake, Fire Chief Jim Clack said.
Lisa Dungee, a Baltimore City Circuit Court employee, said she was at her desk in the city courthouse when the quake hit. She thought, at first, the vibrations were coming from a heavy cart rolling by in the hallway.
“Then the lamp started moving and we knew it was something more serious,” she said on the way to her car around 2:30.
Some Maryland residents, unaccustomed to earthquakes and so close to the nation’s capital, first attributed the tremors to terrorism, not nature.
“I thought it was an explosion,” Dungee said.
Workers were evacuated from many state office buildings in Annapolis, including the State House.
The Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis was “closed until further notice,” according to a handwritten sign in the main entrance Tuesday evening. The building reopened Wednesday morning.
The Maryland Stadium Authority emptied M&T Bank Stadium of the hundreds of people preparing for Thursday’s preseason game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins.
Spokeswoman Jan Hardesty said stadium authority officials were meeting with a structural engineer when the earthquake hit. The engineer, she said, will check M&T first, before Thursday night’s game, then Oriole Park and finally the other buildings of the Camden Yards campus, including the iconic warehouse. The Orioles are scheduled to play host to the New York Yankees on Friday night.
Jay Davidson, CEO of Baltimore Racing Development LLC, said Tuesday afternoon he had not heard of any damage to the roadway, grandstands or other projects underway in advance of the Baltimore Grand Prix.
He said inspectors would check on the seating areas and pedestrian bridges over the course before the race, which is scheduled for Sept. 2-4.
“I felt it,” Davidson said. “I can’t imagine it caused any damage.”
MARC travelers were being loaded on to Amtrak trains Tuesday evening for trips southbound on the Penn Line, which links Washington to Perryville by way of Penn Station.
That left MARC trains out of position and added to delays out of Union Station in Washington. Trains were limited to 15-20 miles per hour before inspectors cleared the tracks.
Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens said the delays could last through Wednesday morning.
Air traffic was not interrupted at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to a spokesman.
“Following the tremors, airport personnel immediately inspected the airfield. There was no damage identified,” said Jonathan Dean, the spokesman.
In Howard County, shoppers were temporarily forced from the Mall in Columbia due to a problem with a sprinkler pipe.
Both reactors at Calvert Cliffs, the Southern Maryland nuclear plant part-owned by Constellation Energy Group, were operating at 100 percent capacity after the earthquake, according to the company. Still, Constellation declared an “unusual event,” the lowest level of nuclear plant emergency, after the quake.
Transportation officials said there was no significant damage reported on Maryland’s roadways.
The State Highway Administration received “good reports” from an initial wave of inspections of road surfaces, bridges, overhead signs and light posts.
“Now we’re in a second phase where we’re sending out bridge inspectors out to the larger structures,” said spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.
It didn’t take long for restaurants and bars to look for ways to capitalize on the quake while soothing patron’s frazzled nerves.
Alonso’s Restaurant on Cold Spring Lane posted drink specials on Twitter about an hour after the earthquake, advertising half-price shaken drinks.
“Got the shakes?” the tweet read. “Come unwind!”
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer Steve Lash contributed to this article.