East coast quake cracks Washington landmark

A rare 5.8 earthquake cracked the famed
Washington Monument
© AFP Mandel Ngan


WASHINGTON (AFP) – The surprise earthquake that rattled the US east coast opened a small crack near the top of the iconic Washington Monument, prompting officials on Wednesday to indefinitely close the building, one of the city’s major tourist draws.

The giant stone obelisk, Washington’s tallest edifice at 555 feet (169 meters), each day draws hundreds of tourists who ascend the structure for breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings.

But Tuesday’s quake opened a four-inch (10 centimeter)-long fissure in the building, raising fears of more serious structural damage not visible to the naked eye.

“The Washington Monument, because of its structural complexities, will remain closed until further notice,” read a statement from US National Park Service, the agency that administers many popular attractions around Washington’s National Mall area.

“The NPS will continue to inspect the interior of the monument before any decisions are made about reopening it to the public,” the statement said.

The shuttered monument was but one of many disappointments met by visitors to Washington, who learned that damage from Tuesday’s 5.8 magnitude temblor also forced temporary closure of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the city’s Old Post Office Tower and other tourist sights.

Schools around the region, which had only just re-opened this week after a two-month-long summer break, were also closed, as officials assessed when it might be safe for students to return.

The quake struck at 1:51 pm (1751 GMT), with an epicenter 3.7 miles (six kilometers) under the central Virginia town of Mineral, 134 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of the US capital, the National Earthquake Information Center reported.

It was felt as far south as Alabama and as far north as Boston, although President Barack Obama, on vacation in nearby Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, said he did not notice any rumbling while on the golf course.

The quake lasted less than half a minute, setting buildings swaying and sending tens of thousands of people scurrying into the streets, but causing no reported deaths or serious injuries.

Evidence of the temblor was literally strewn across the city.

A spire atop the National Cathedral
was damaged by the 5.8 earthquake
that rocked Washington
© AFP Mandel Ngan

Washington’s National Cathedral lost part of its towering neo-Gothic spires and suffered cracks in its flying buttresses.

Chunks of masonry and tile also fell from the domed roof of the US Capitol building where Congress convenes, officials said.

And the Pentagon, the world’s biggest office building, ordered a brief evacuation of its employees.

David McIntyre, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, said the agency was closely monitoring the situation at two atomic power plants Louisa County not far from Mineral, which reported an “alert” after the quake struck.

But tongues in Washington were wagging most on Wednesday about the damage to the hulking stone monument a few blocks from the White House, built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership during the American Revolution.

Residents here have a love-hate relationship with the Washington Monument, visible from almost everywhere in the city, but derided by many as unattractive and unremarkable-looking.

“Too bad the pillar did not come down,” read one commentary posted under the name “nowthetruth” on the Washington Post’s website.

“It should be replaced with something more meaningful, something more pretty,” the commentary said.

“We took our grandmother from overseas to see the monument, and upon arriving she yelled, thats it? That pillar is what we came to see?

“We all burst into laughter as it just looked so silly after that,” the commentator wrote.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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