People who live in earthquake-prone areas like San Francisco or Tokyo are accustomed to the threat of the ground shaking, but the residents of Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C. reacted with bewilderment today as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake convulsed the region.

In Washington, many federal employees were evacuated after tremors rippled through the nation's capitol. Tullio Sawyers, a management analyst for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, described the reaction in his office building as half panicky, half calm.

I saw the wall behind a co-worker and the ceiling above him just shake and remember telling him this is an earthquake, Sawyers said. Everyone started screaming earthquake and then we heard a big pop, my co-worker across the hall's windows were vibrating. I could see in the neighboring building next door everyone was scrambling to get out.

The quake caused numerous injuries, none of them minor, and damaged a range of buildings that included the Ecuadorian embassy and some schools, The Associated Press reported. But memories of a previous disaster in Washington resonated with federal workers who faced evacuations and uncertainty.

The consensus was we all hadn't felt our hearts beat so fast since 9/11, Sawyers said.

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake's epicenter was just northwest of Richmond, Va., a city non-renowned for its earthquakes. Sara Rozmus, a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that when the ground began to shake she initially thought a passing truck was responsible. But when they continued, she realized it was something different. She said that the only casualty was a small ceramic doll that fell to the ground and shattered, and said she and her friends were more surprised than frightened.

I wasn't really worried about any damage, Rozmus said. It didn't feel like it was that strong and it only happened for maybe a minute tops. But it was definitely very shocking.