Updated at 6:02 p.m.
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Washington this afternoon, shuttering most of the city's legal institutions.
The earthquake hit just before 2 p.m. News reports place the epicenter in a region northwest of Richmond, Va., but tremors could be felt along the East Coast, as far north as Maine and as far south as North Carolina. The Associated Press reported that a D.C. fire department spokesman said there were numerous injuries, but none initially serious. The temblor struck at 1:51 p.m.
The city’s federal and local courts were evacuated shortly after the earthquake hit. The federal courts will remain closed for the remainder of the day, with the expectation that they will reopen tomorrow morning. At least two trials underway in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia were interrupted, including a Colombian narcotics case and a fraud case.
The local courts will also remain closed, with the exception of adult arraignments and new juvenile referrals, according to court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz. Gurowitz said that jurors in the process of jury selection have been asked to return tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. to the appropriate courtroom. Anyone with a pending matter scheduled for Tuesday afternoon are also being asked to report back on Wednesday.
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, said shortly before 3 p.m. that department employees had returned to the Main Justice building and business had resumed. Justice Department employees were outside for about 20 minutes before heading back inside.
On Capitol Hill, activity was already at a minimum because of the August recess, so the earthquake didn’t disrupt any hearings. The Senate, though, had been scheduled for a pro forma session at 2:30 p.m. The session was postponed.
Staff members said the Capitol building and all office buildings on the House and Senate sides were evacuated. Staff had not been allowed back in as of 3:20 p.m. Beth Levine, spokeswoman for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said her office’s staff “all got out just fine.”
Workers across downtown Washington streamed out of office buildings as soon as the tremors were felt.
Several of the city’s law firms reported closing for the day. Rebecca Carr, a spokeswoman for Covington & Burling, said that firm had shut down for the day. Carr said the firm’s building, which also has Sutherland Asbill & Brennan as a tenant, was completely evacuated.
Other firms evacuated temporarily but were back at work when reached later this afternoon. Hogan Lovells managing partner J. Warren Gorrell Jr., said attorneys there “evacuated but are back in the office and back to normal as if nothing ever happened.” Gorrell said the building shook and the lights flickered for about 15 seconds.
McDermott Will & Emery spokesman Chad Torbin said the firm is “back to business, more or less.” Torbin said staff could leave if they wanted to go home, however, so the office is operating “around half capacity at the moment, maybe a little less.”
Cozen O’Connor partner Bernie Grimm said that when the earthquake hit, he was “reading a Supreme Court opinion that was poorly written and had a bad result.”
“I was looking for any distraction and I got one,” he said. “Spent the next hour in Farragut Park on a perfect day. Unfortunately when I came back the opinion was still on my desk.”
Local law enforcement reported damages at several buildings. The Associated Press reported that at least three of the four pinnacles at the National Cathedral in Northwest Washington fell off and that a central tower appears to be leaning.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a statement that city police officers were maintaining a “heavy presence” in the community and that a helicopter was flying over the District for a visual assessment of damage.
This post was reported by Jenna Greene, Matthew Huisman, David Ingram, Andrew Ramonas, Mike Scarcella, Karen Sloan and Zoe Tillman, and was written by Tillman.