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By Steve Lyttle, slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte region and much of the Carolinas were rattled Tuesday afternoon by a strong earthquake centered near Richmond.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had an intensity of 5.9 — unusually strong for the eastern United States — and took place at 1:51 p.m. It was centered at 37.8 degrees north and 77.9 degrees west.

That’s 34 miles northwest of Richmond and 87 miles southwest of Washington. The quake was felt from Ohio to Massachusetts, and then south to the Carolinas and the Atlanta area.

Residents across the Charlotte region reported feeling the shake.

Paul Badger said he was sitting in his office in Troutman, in Iredell County, when the earthquake hit.

“I could feel my chair slowly rocking back and forth and see my computer monitors rocking slightly,” he said.

One resident of the Plaza Midwood area said dishes and plates on a counter in his house shook. And a resident of Marvin, in Union County, reported feeling a rocking motion while sitting on his front porch.

Graddie Lane of Sherrills Ford said the quake “shook the house quite firmly and rattled pots and pans, windows and doors for about five seconds.”

N.C. state geologist Kenneth Taylor said reports of motion had been reported from Chapel Hill to Wilmington. No damage was immediately reported. At its epicenter in Virginia, he said, ground motion from a 5.9 earthquake on the Richter scale is on the threshold of causing architectural damage.

“Here you’d just expect a dish-rattler,” Taylor said, although effects would be stronger near the N.C.-Virginia line. He estimated N.C. effects of IV or V on the modified Mercalli intensity scale, which ranges from I (not felt) to XII (total destruction).

Duke Energy was checking for damage at its power plants strung across western North Carolina.

Medic in Mecklenburg County reported no calls for help as a result of the quake.

For many, Twitter has become one of the go-to spots to find out about breaking news from the weather to sports and, as we learned today, the tremors from an earthquake. Messages were flying across the Carolinas this afternoon, including this one: “OK that was a trip. We just had an earthquake here in our little town. #wild” Follow people’s tweets about the quake here.

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