A man speaks on his cell phone as others wait...

A man speaks on his cell phone as others wait to be allowed back into their office buildings near the courthouse after an earthquake was felt in New York. (Aug. 23, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

The strongest earthquake on the East Coast in 67 years shook Long Island and more than a dozen states along the Eastern Seaboard Tuesday, emptying office buildings of workers, briefly disrupting transportation and rattling nerves.

Property on Long Island was virtually unscathed from the magnitude 5.8 quake. There was more scattered damage closer to the quake's epicenter in central Virginia, 350 miles away, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

In Washington, the National Park Service said engineers have found a crack near the top of the Washington Monument presumably caused by the quake. Park service spokesman Bill Line said that structural engineers found the crack where the 555-foot landmark narrows considerably. He said the monument will be closed indefinitely.

Washington's National Cathedral said its "Gloria in Excelsis" central tower, the highest point in the nation's capital, was significantly damaged, as were three of its four corner spires.

At least 12 million people felt the shaking that began at 1:51 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Based on data collected by the California Institute of Technology and the USGS, Tuesday's earthquake could be felt for 10 to 15 seconds, said Egill Hauksson, a seismologist at the Pasadena, Calif., school. The shaking resulted from movement of a fault that produced energy for 2 to 5 seconds, he said.

Several aftershocks shook central Virginia later Tuesday, including a 2.2 aftershock at 3:20 p.m. and a 4.2 at 8:04 p.m.

Kennedy and Newark airports were shut down for 45 minutes. The Long Island Rail Road suffered brief delays when a control center at Jamaica was evacuated.

Map locates the epicenter of an earthquake in Virginia. (Aug....

Map locates the epicenter of an earthquake in Virginia. (Aug. 23, 2011) Credit: AP

The quake was unnerving to some in New York City, where the sudden shaking triggered memories of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Conchita Valdes, an administrative assistant at The Terence Cardinal Cooke Catholic Center on First Avenue in Manhattan, said she left her building despite an announcement that it was safe to stay. "I had a flashback to the World Trade Center," said Valdes, 32.

At City Hall, which was evacuated for about a half-hour, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was no significant damage in the city. Police reported that about 100 bricks fell from a chimney onto a roof at the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, a public housing development. No one was hurt, officials said. "It was a stressful afternoon, but so far we have been able to avoid major harm," Bloomberg said.

The temblor briefly threatened to reverse Tuesday's stock market rally. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 60 points soon after the quake hit, but quickly recovered, closing 322 points higher.

The biggest casualty of the day in the metro area may have been cellphone service, as callers overloaded systems' capacity in an attempt to reach family and others. "The network's operational," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Howard Waterman. "It's just volume."

In Albany, the State Office of Emergency Management, monitored key infrastructure like tunnels, bridges and power plants. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said there were no reports of damage or power outages.

Two nuclear power plants in Virginia were automatically shut down by safety systems, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Government buildings in Washington, including the White House and the Pentagon, were evacuated, and many government workers were sent home for the rest of the day.

The quake was also felt on a Martha's Vineyard, Mass., golf course where President Barack Obama was starting a round. The president was briefed on the quake in a conference call with security officials.

Damage was more evident near the epicenter of the quake. All over the small town of Mineral, Va., masonry was crumpled, and there were stores with shelved contents strewn on the floor. Several display windows at businesses in the tiny downtown area were broken and lay in jagged shards.

Carmen Bonano, who has a 1-year-old granddaughter, sat on the porch of her family's white-frame house, its twin brick chimneys destroyed. Her voice still quavered with fear.

"The fridge came down off the wall and things started falling. I just pushed the refrigerator out of the way, grabbed the baby and ran," she said.

Elizabeth Fulmer, who moved from Bayville to Louisa, Va., about 20 years ago, was at home eating a bowl of soup on her couch when her home started shaking. She briefly lost electricity and television reception.

"The soup was going all over the place and figurines started flying off the top of the fireplace," she said during the fourth aftershock within a half-hour of the quake. "I got my dogs and got them into one room because pictures started crashing off the walls and one of them smashed through a glass table. The shaking was a good 30 or 40 seconds."

"I felt one on Long Island years ago, but that was nothing compared to this," she said. "My knees are still shaking. I didn't know what it was. I thought it could have been a propane explosion or a nuclear plant nearby blowing up. But after a couple of seconds, I realized what it was. I just never expected it here."

With Mark Harrington, James T. Madore, Ellen Yan, Tom Brune, Bill Bleyer, Patrick Whittle, Anthony M. DeStefano, Kery Murakami, Yancey Roy, Ali Eaves and The Associated Press