-Huge earthquake felt across the East Coast, from Toronto to South Carolina
-Damage reported in Virginia, while building evacuated for fear of collapse in New York and Washington
-The White House and the Pentagon among buildings evacuated
-Fears of Fukushima-like nuclear disaster because old nuclear plant a few miles from epicentre
By Thomas Durante, Paul Bentley and John Stevens
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Shocked: Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington
A huge earthquake ripped through the East Coast of America this afternoon, causing terrifying tremors from Washington D.C. to New York.
Buildings in the major cities throughout the north east - including the Pentagon and the White House - had to be evacuated with the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, which originated in Virginia, shaking areas from as far north as Toronto, Canada, and as far south as Anderson in South Carolina.
In Virginia there were reports of damage caused by the quake, while the streets of downtown Washington and New York were filled with thousands of people hauled out of buildings for fear they could collapse.
There were also fears of a nuclear disaster of the kind seen in Japan's Fukushima because the epicentre was just a few miles from two nuclear power plants.
Thankful: Co-workers Susan Sproul, left, and Susan Davidson hug after evacuating from their building after an earthquake was felt in Baltimore
Bad timing: A bride in her wedding dress runs from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan in New York after feeling the terrifying shake
Federal officials said two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Virginia, were automatically taken off line by safety systems.
At the Pentagon, it has been reported that staff ran from the building fearing they were under attack.
The 5.9-magnitude tremor struck at about 2pm local time with shallow tremors of about 3.7 miles deep, which is thought to explain why the shaking was so widespread.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was half a mile deep and centred near Louisa, Virginia, about 40 miles north west of Richmond.
Crushed: Cars were smashed in Virginia after the huge East Coast earthquake
Wreckage: Pictures show the devastating aftermath of the quake in Virginia
Fallen bricks: A man walks past bricks that fell off of a house in Baltimore
It is though to have been the strongest quake to hit the Virginia area since 1897.
The previous record for an earthquake in the Washington, D.C. area was on July 16, 2010, when a 3.6 magnitude struck.
'This is one of the largest earthquakes on the east coast in quite a while, in many decades at least,' USGS spokeswoman Lucy Jones told CNN.
Tremors were also felt as far north as New York City and Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing.
Dangerous: One of the spires , left, of the National Cathedral in Washington is seen missing following the earthquake
Damaged: The spire, left, was smashed by the quake, leaving debris, right, on the floor
Barricaded: US Capitol Police officers secure the streets outside the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Precautions: Staff ran from the Pentagon after the earthquake, thinking it was an attack
Open space: Workers stand in Foley Square park in New York after the earthquake
According to reports, he had just been starting a round of golf when the floor moved underneath him.
The Capitol Building and the Pentagon were among buildings evacuated after the quake struck.
Pictures hanging on the walls at the Capitol reportedly fell to the floor from the shocks.
US aviation authorities halted flights at several airports after the shake was felt.
'We're getting a lot of calls on buildings shaking but there's no report of any structural damage at this time,' a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said.
Buildings in Boston were evacuated, while witnesses said the quake was felt as far away as Toronto.
Paul Badger said he was sitting in his office in Troutman, North Carolina, when the earthquake hit.
'I could feel my chair slowly rocking back and forth and see my computer monitors rocking slightly,' he told the Charlotte Observer.
Another resident told the newspaper that dishes and plates in his house shook.
Control towers at John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty International airports were also evacuated.
Andre Smith-Pugh, 25, felt the shaking from the top of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
'It felt like the scaffolding was coming down,' he told the New York Times. 'It felt like a big truck slammed into the side of the building right here at the White House.'
In New York, many office buildings were evacuated. 'Our townhouse started shaking a short time ago and branches started to fall off trees and hit our windows and hit our roof like crazy,' Bill Parks, from Hummelstown, said.
Ripples: Buildings were evacuated as far away as Toronto, in Canada after the earthquake
Shaken: Live pictures from Washington and New York, which felt the shudder
'It lasted about 10 seconds and was as bad as the Northridge after shock I had experienced while visiting in California. I ran outdoors and found my neighbour calling a friend in Virginia who also felt the profound quake. This quake was like none I ever experienced in the East in my life and I am 76 years old.'
Thomas McGarry, 55, has run a small convenience store kiosk above subway tracks right in front of New York city hall for the last year and a half.
He told MailOnline he was in the kiosk when the quake hit.
'We all looked at each other. I thought the floor was going to cave in,' he said.
Aghast: People who came out on the street after an earthquake look up at a window that cracked during the quake on Market Street in Philadelphia
Calling home: Office workers gather on a sidewalk after their building was evacuated following an earthquake in New York
Damage: A maintenance worker looks for additional cracked windows in a building on Market Street in Philadelphia
He added that it wasn't long before workers at the government buildings on Broadway poured into the street.
'They were flooding out, like on 9/11. We couldn't even get out of the shop to look because we were surrounded.'
Flora Gross, also 55, was working on the fourth floor of a federal office building on church street, just down the street from ground zero, when she felt the tremors.
Calm: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks after the earthquake
Just in case: Children are evacuated from the Jacob K. Javits Federal building in New York
Gathered: People gather for safety in a garden in Lower Manhattan after the earthquake in Virginia was felt in New York
Scared: Suzanne Beatty comforts her son Quentin Beatty, 7, on a street in TriBeCa, New York
'We thought it was construction,' she said. 'But then my daughter called from uptown and said: 'Mummy we just had an earthquake.'
Her husband, who works as a maintenance worker uptown, told her he was on a ladder when the quake hit. 'He thought his legs were giving out before realising the whole building was shaking,' she said.
In Mineral, Virginia, which is four miles from the quake’s centre, residents said there had been extensive damage, with pictures falling off walls and crockery smashing from shelves.
Wrecked: Damage can be seen on the street outside a library in Washington DC
Shattered: Part of the library's roof crumbled during the 5.9 magnitude earthquake
Broken: Cracks appear on the facade of a building on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia
In Charleston, West Virginia, hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave.
‘The whole building shook,’ said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. ‘You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own.’
In Connecticut, play was stopped during a tennis match at the New Haven Open after the stadium on the Yale campus shook.
The umpire stopped the game between Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Elena Vesnina of Russia after spectators felt three waves of shaking and water bottles sloshed back and forth.
According to reports, tremors were felt as far away as Toronto, Canada.
On King Street West in Toronto, office workers evacuated buildings. One, named Amanda, told the Toronto News her whole office rolled.
'It was very unnerving,' she said. 'I have no words.'
Social networking site Twitter lit up with reports of the earthquake from people using the site up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard.
‘People pouring out of buildings and onto the sidewalks and Into Farragut Park in downtown DC...,’ tweeted Republican strategist Kevin Madden.
Missouri senator Claire McCaskill tweeted that her staff in Washington was in an ‘emergency location. Hope everyone is OK.’
Blower: President Obama was busy on the golf course when he heard the news
On holiday: President Barack Obama, second from left, felt the quake while playing golf
Hard at play: President Barack Obama plays the first hole of the Farm Neck Golf Club today
John Gurlach, air traffic controller at the Morgantown Municipal Airport was in a 40-foot-tall tower when the earth trembled.
‘There were two of us looking at each other saying, “What's that?”’ he said, even as a commuter plane was landing. ‘It was noticeably shaking. It felt like a B-52 unloading.’
Not everyone, however, was quite so terrified by the tremors. On Wall Street traders could be heard shouting: 'Carry on trading!' despite the shaking.
No injuries were immediately reported.