At first people weren’t sure it was really happening.
Marion Wipf of Cutchogue was typing on her computer when she felt shaking. “She asked me if I was fooling around with her chair,” said her husband, Alex.
In Southold, Supervisor Scott Russell was likewise at his desk when he noticed something wasn’t right.
“My desk was swaying and my computer screen was swaying,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was real or in my head. I had to ask my secretary.”
It was real, all right. What people across the North Fork felt Tuesday afternoon were tremors from an earthquake centered in Virginia that hit a few minutes before 2 p.m. But aside from some disconcerting shaking, the region escaped unscathed.
Officials reported no injuries or significant damage.
The quake, with a magnitude of 5.8 was the strongest to hit the East Coast in 67 years, lasted from 10 to 15 seconds. The epicenter was 38 miles from Richmond, Va., and 84 miles from Washington, D.C., where parts of the White House, Capitol and Pentagon were evacuated. It apparently left a crack in the Washington Monument.
The quake was felt was felt by an estimated 12 million people from Martha’s Vineyard and south to Charleston, S.C.
The Southold Police Department was swamped with calls, many from people wondering what had happened. Items were shaken off shelves at the Town Hall Annex. At Town Hall proper the quake was felt more on the building’s southern side, facing Main Road, and less in the rear area to the north, Supervisor Russell said.
While there may be aftershocks, he said, “We’ll be just fine. Right now we’re more focused on Hurricane Irene.”
That storm, which passed through the Caribbean earlier this week as a Category 3 with sustained winds of 115 mph, could reach the Mid-Atlantic coast this weekend. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s long-range projections put Long Island in the center of the area of potential landfall locations.
The town’s emergency management team, which includes representatives from the police and local fire departments, is scheduled to meet Thursday morning.
In the hours immediately after the quake the Suffolk County Police Department issued a call for residents to remain calm.
Mr. Wipf, who once lived on the West Coast, saw no reason to panic.
Compared to what he’d often feel in California, “this was really mild,” he said.
He’ll get no argument from Nanette Doroski of Greenport, who said Tuesday’s quake paled in comparison to what she experienced while living in the Philippines.
Even so, “I never felt anything here, ever,” Ms. Doroski said. “The dishes in my china cabinet were shaking and my chair was shaking.”
Her husband, John, painting up in the attic, didn’t feel a thing.
“I ran up and asked him, ‘Are you doing anything to shake the house?’ ” Ms. Doroski said.
This is not the first time the North Fork has rumbled from an earthquake elsewhere. In the early 1980s the region was shaken by an earthquake centered under Long Island Sound 10 miles north of Greenport. That quake, which some who experienced it said was a bit more intense than Tuesday’s event, also caused no damage.
Last November an earthquake 79 miles south-southeast of Southampton, registering a magnitude 3.9, made its presence known here.
“It felt like I was back in Brooklyn when the coal trucks used to rumble by,” Mattituck resident Jack McGreevy said at the time.