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Obama — who was in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., on Tuesday for a family vacation — was briefed on the earthquake during a conference call, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest. His advisers reported no major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities, and no requests for assistance. Obama was also updated on preparations for Hurricane Irene, a Category 2 storm that the National Weather Service predicted would move over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday evening. It is currently heading in the direction of the southeast United States.
The president didn’t feel the earthquake in Massachusetts, Earnest later said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was much closer to the earthquake’s epicenter. He was traveling to a town hall meeting in Culpeper, Va., when the temblor struck. The gathering with more than 60 community leaders was eventually held outdoors beneath a tree.
“I am relieved to hear initial reports of limited damage and injuries from today’s quake,” Warner said in a statement. “We are reaching out to state and local officials to see what federal resources or assistance they might need. We also have been in touch with officials at Dominion Virginia Power and they assure us the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, near the quake’s epicenter in Louisa County, was taken offline safely.”
David Becker, a tourist from Long Island, N.Y., was in the CVC cafeteria when the earthquake started. He said it lasted about 10 seconds.
"There was just a lot of shaking, and then we had to go," he said.
Across the way at the Supreme Court, Ken Kortea of Bloomington, Ind., didn't feel any shaking. He just heard a loud bang.
"We weren't sure what was happening," he said. "We just knew we had to leave."
Bystanders reported that pieces of the ceiling were falling inside Union Station.
Lisa Styles, 26, of Hyattsville, who works at the Center Cafe at Union Station, reported seeing parts of a statue falling after she ran from the building.
Others reported seeing parts of the ceiling fall inside the food court.
"We felt and then saw stuff falling from the roof — a piece of concrete maybe," said Francis Nsolo, 35, of Hyattsville.
Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman confirmed there was damage to the building. "We do have pieces of plaster down. We do have pieces of statues down," he said.
Jessica Brady, Jessica Estepa, Niels Lesniewski, Daniel Newhauser, Humberto Sanchez and Neda Semnani contributed to this report.