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An earthquake that shook Charles County shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday did not cause injuries or property damage here, according to early reports from government officials.

Some public buildings, including the county government building and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in La Plata, were evacuated in response to fire alarms or as a precaution, and Charles County Public Schools closed for building inspections, spokeswomen said.

The Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River was closed for inspection., but reopened around 4:30 p.m. A new traffic routing plan to help southern Charles County residents get home despite stalled bridge traffic was implemented for the first time, according to the sheriff’s office.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake began 1:51 p.m. with its epicenter near the town of Mineral, Va., which is roughly between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, Va., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was felt as far north as New England and as far south as North Carolina, early news accounts state.

At Malcolm Elementary School in Waldorf, where teachers were working their first day, some staff took shelter under desks while others fled outside, away from any potential falling objects. Principal Wilhelmina Pugh said no one was hurt and the building appeared undamaged.

Inside the school, plaques and pictures on the wall were askew after the earthquake, and faculty comforted alarmed colleagues after the shaking stopped.

Christy Dodson of Clinton was giving birth to her fourth child at Civista Medical Center in La Plata when the earthquake occurred.

Husband Tommy Dodson said things were going just fine during the delivery of his fourth child and then “the next thing you know the building is shaking,” he said.

He said the monitors were shaking, carts were rolling across the room and the delivery was, as much as possible, put on hold until the shaking stopped.

Baby Jessica and Mommy, Tommy Dodson said, are doing well.

Nina Voehl, a Brandywine resident, was in her home at the time of the earthquake, her first.

“All of a sudden things started shaking, glass rattled, I looked outside and the cars were shaking,” Voehl said.

She joked that while there are many things on her “bucket list,” an earthquake was never one of them.

The earthquake was “definitely an experience,” she said.

La Plata Town Manager Daniel Mears said that the town’s infrastructure, including town hall, had been checked and no damage was found, nor were injuries reported. Mears said he had heard of merchandise falling from store shelves in the town.

Some sheriff’s deputies’ cellphones stopped working immediately after the earthquake, but police radios were fine, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kristen Timko said. County government spokeswoman Crystal Hunt, who was eating at the La Plata Panera during the earthquake, said she and other patrons were not able to use their phones immediately afterward.

Communications problems likely resulted from overuse of the cellular system rather than damage, said Verizon Wireless Maryland spokeswoman Melanie Ortel.

“There are no reports of damage to our wireless network. … There was significant network volume for about 20 minutes after those tremors. Everything returned to normal once the tremors ceased,” Ortel said.

A Food Lion grocery in Charlotte Hall closed that afternoon because of roof damage, an employee said, and the tremors were felt at the Charlotte Hall library.

“We definitely felt [it] here,” said Carol Fersch, a circulation assistant. “It was scary.”

Maryanne Bowman, branch manager, said there was no damage. People at the library were just a little shaken up by the experience.

“It was pretty crazy,” Bowman said.

Someone at the library who had lived on the West Coast advised people to move toward doorways.

“We went to doorways and just stayed away from book stacks,” Bowman said. Bowman’s co-worker heard from her daughter in Jacksonville, N.C., where they also had felt the earthquake.

Dave Fitz, spokesman at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, said the earthquake caused no apparent damage at the plant and lockdowns and monitoring continued throughout the afternoon Tuesday.

“Both of our units are operating at 100 percent power,” Fitz said. “The plant is safe. Per our emergency procedures, we have declared an unusual event at Calvert Cliffs,” the lowest level of emergency notification U.S. nuclear plants are required to declare by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Limited damage was reported in some Calvert County buildings, including schools, though there were no immediate reports of injuries. First responders were investigating businesses and residences that reported problems, including odors of gas, and were checking shoreline cliff areas for damage, Calvert County spokesman Mark Volland said.

People quickly came out of their offices in downtown Prince Frederick after the earthquake.

Kim Long, an employee of the Calvert County Health Department who works in downtown Prince Frederick, said her daughter felt the shake in St. Leonard.

“She said it was so bad the Wii remotes fell down off the cupboards,” Long said.

“We felt it here, too,” said North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer, who was at work at Dunkirk Dental Associates in Dunkirk. The building was evacuated, he said.

They felt it at the town hall in Chesapeake Beach as well.

“We were sitting here and the floor started shaking,” said Fran Addicott, the town’s secretary. Her husband who was in Huntingtown also felt it, she said. Everyone walked out of the town hall and people from Traders Seafood Steak and Ale restaurant also were outside, she said.

Jim Parent, the town’s administrator, was in his car at the time of the quake.

“It felt like someone was behind it bouncing it around,” he said.

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) was in the middle of visiting the region when the quake hit. He already had taken a tour of the Charles County jail with Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) and was planning on attending an annual fundraiser for Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary's, Charles) later in the evening. He said the general purpose of his visit was to get a feel for how the region's economy was coping with the ongoing recession.

“Also, we get to experience earthquakes,” he added.

Staff writers Jason Babcock, Carol Harvat, Carrie Lovejoy, Jeff Newman, Gretchen Phillips, Meghan Russell, Paul Warner and Jesse Yeatman contributed to this report.

emitrano@somdnews.com