A 5.8-magnitude earthquake centred in Virginia rattled the East Coast Tuesday afternoon, shaking buildings in cities as far north as Toronto.

Canadians from London, Ont. to Ottawa to as far east as New Brunswick reported that they felt the afternoon quake.

Seismologist Allison Bent of Earthquake Canada said the earthquake's epicentre was too far away to cause any damage in Canada.

"It's large enough that the waves travel out from the epicentre and they go over long distances. The bigger the earthquake is the farther away you can feel it," she told The Canadian Press.

In response to the quake, parts of the Pentagon, the White House and the Capital buildings were evacuated in Washington.

The National Cathedral in Washington had cracks appear in the flying buttresses around the apse at one end. A crack was also found near the top of the Washington Monument. 

A fire department spokesperson in the U.S. capital said there have been a number of injuries reported, but no deaths or serious injuries.

Pete Piringer said some buildings have been damaged, including;an embassy and a small number of schools.

"The shaking felt substantial to most people, and they got on to the street as fast as they could," CTV Washington Bureau Chief Paul Workman reported.

He said the shaking lasted for about 35 to 40 seconds.

At the Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell, and officials put all flights on hold.

Matt Leonard, from Washington, who felt the quake said that cellphone service was down in the city.

"The city is a bit dysfunctional," Leonard told CTV News Channel on Tuesday afternoon. "Traffic's in chaos all day. It's put quite a wrinkle in people's plans."

He said that the city is talking about the possibility of aftershocks and they are wondering of another quake will hit the area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was about 800-metres deep, centred northwest of Richmond, in Mineral, Va.

U.S. officials said no tsunami is expected. The National Weather Service said the location was too far inland to trigger a tsunami.

Two nuclear reactors in the same country as the epicentre were automatically taken offline at the time of the earthquake.

The power plant is now being powered by four emergency diesel generators. Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the agency was not aware of any damage to any nuclear plants in the southeast U.S.

Some buildings were also evacuated in New York, including the Empire State Building.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a brief statement saying: "Currently, there have been no reports of damage to buildings, bridges, roads, power grids, the Indian Point nuclear power plant, or other infrastructure."

U.S. President Barack Obama is in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. and was reported to have felt the earthquake there just as he began a round of golf.

The shaking was felt as far south as Chapel Hill, N.C.

The quake occurred at 1:51 p.m. EST, the USGS said.

No damage has been reported in Toronto, police said.

Stephanie Hoeg, 25, was working on the first floor of her office building near Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto when she said she felt an "uncontrollable shaking."

"I couldn't stop even by holding my desk," she said in an email. "Almost like someone was at the other end of my desk shaking it as hard as they could."

The quake was the largest recorded in Virginia since a 5.9-magnitude shaker in 1897.

The term "earthquake" quickly became the top trending topic on Twitter in Canada Tuesday afternoon.