PHOTOS: East Coast Earthquake Sends Strong Warning Messages
People who were evacuated from their buildings wait in a park after an earthquake struck the east coast Reuters

An earthquake is low on the list of potential perils for the residents of Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C. But after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake convulsed the region on Tuesday, an initial wave of fear was for the most part replaced by incredulity.

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.