A message broadcast by the New York State Division of...

A message broadcast by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services with Earthquake Safety-related tips. Credit: NYS Homeland Security

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest ever felt on the East Coast, hit Long Island at 10:23 a.m. Friday. With its epicenter at Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, about 50 miles west of New York City, officials said the quake was felt as far north as Maine and as far south as Norfolk, Virginia.

No damages or injuries were reported from the quake, which was considered to be on the lower end of the earthquake scale. By comparison, earthquakes above 6.0 on the magnitude scale are considered strong.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow, just below the surface at 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in depth, which made it easier for residents in affected areas to feel the shaking.

Do we expect aftershocks?

As of 6:18 p.m. Friday, there have been 11 aftershocks, according to the USGS, including one registering 4.0 at 6 p.m., later downgraded to 3.8. Others were between 1.8 and 2.2.

More are expected, likely of lesser magnitude than the original quake, scientists say.

Was there any damage reported in the region? 

All MTA services, including the subways and Long Island Rail Road, remain unaffected, and service remains normal, Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Janno Lieber said.

Zach Iscol, the New York City head of emergency management, said there were no known major impacts or “safety events” related to the earthquake.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said there had been no reports of damage. But officials said infrastructure and construction sites need to be inspected and that residents should check their water and gas pipes.

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said the county's Department of Public Works was assessing county facilities and that “no major incidents have been reported.”

PSEG Long Island said no outages took place.

Could homes be damaged?

Since 2000, building code has required stronger resistance to wind loads, which would also increase resistance to seismic loads, said Joseph Schmitt, founder of the Long Island-based Schmitt Engineering firm. Buildings constructed earlier are still considered flexible enough to handle a 4.8 magnitude earthquake, experts said.

The most vulnerable structures would be one-story industrial warehouses built decades ago of unreinforced masonry walls.

Are planes still flying?

Airplanes are arriving and departing at area airports. There had been delays and some closures briefly after the quake. People who are planning to fly should check with their airports.

Did everyone feel the quake? 

Not everyone. Some who were driving felt nothing, but the majority of residents, especially those inside, felt an intense shaking for up to 30 seconds.

The USGS said the quake shook regions where about 42 million people live. The intensity of the quake varied somewhat throughout the region, scientists say.

What should you do if there are stronger aftershocks or another earthquake?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these instructions are recommended for stronger quakes: 

The most dangerous place in a quake is being next to the outer walls of a building. If you are inside, drop to the floor, cover your head and arms and hold on until the shaking stops. Move away from anything that can fall on you. Do not use elevators.

If you are outside, get down low, away from trees, poles and buildings. If you are in a moving vehicle, pull over and set the parking brake. 

Have strong quakes hit the Northeast?

On Aug. 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake was the strongest to hit the East Coast since World War II. The epicenter was in Virginia.

Generally, Northeast earthquakes have lower magnitudes. While the area does have fault lines running underneath it, they don't compare to the ones in volatile areas like California. 

Can earthquakes lead to anxiety?

An earthquake can feel “unreal,” said Shari Lurie, senior director of mental health services for South Shore Guidance Center in Freeport and Epic Long Island in East Meadow.

“It’s the unknown,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next. So it creates anxiety even for people who generally don’t struggle with it.”

An earthquake can be especially jarring for people from Long Island and New York City, who are not used to experiencing them, said Jaclyn McCarthy, vice president of program excellence at Hicksville-based Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services.

“It's just that matter of uncertainty of what might be happening,” she said. “Is this an earthquake? Is it not? Is the building going to fall down? That really leads to fear and anxiety in people.”

For those with anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions, the effects of the earthquake can be especially intense, experts said.

With David Olson and Arielle Dollinger

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