East Coast quake one of the biggest since 1897

The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck Virginia on Tuesday was the largest on the East Coast since one of the same strength in New York in 1944, according to the U.S. Geological Service.

It was the largest in Virginia since a 5.9 temblor in 1897. The largest East Coast quake on record was a 7.3 in South Carolina in 1886.

A 5.8 earthquake releases as much energy as nearly 8 tons of TNT, about half the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

But it was smaller than earthquakes that have made world headlines recently. The devastating March 11 quake in northeastern Japan was a magnitude 9.0. One that rocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in February was a 6.3.

That Japanese earthquake released 63,095 times more energy than the Virginia one.

USGS seismologist Paule Earle said earthquakes like this can happen "anywhere at any time."

"There's a lot of unknown faults in the East that are very unlikely to go, but do go periodically," Earle said.

The epicenter of Tuesday's quake was 3.7 miles underground near Mineral, Va., and about 90 miles southwest of Washington.