by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 24, 2011
Washington's iconic monuments were off-limits to disappointed tourists and schools around the region were also shuttered Wednesday, as authorities assessed the damage from a rare US east coast earthquake the previous day.
Officials announced that the Washington Monument, one of the most recognizable symbols of the US capital city, would be closed to visitors indefinitely after cracks were found near the summit of the soaring obelisk.
"The Washington Monument, because of its structural complexities, will remain closed until further notice," read a statement issued by The National Park Service the federal agency that administers many of the popular sights and 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."
Other popular monuments also were closed "as a precaution" pending a thorough inspection to determine whether repairs were needed following the 5.8 magnitude temblor, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Old Post Office Tower.
"The NPS is evaluating the structures to ensure that they are structurally sound and safe for all visitors," the NPS said in its statement, adding that some of the sites could be reopened once thorough inspections have been completed.
The temblor struck at 1:51 pm (1751 GMT) Tuesday, 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 the most powerful quake to hit Virginia since May 1897 and was felt as far north as Boston and parts of eastern Canada, as far south as Alabama, and as far west as Indiana and Michigan.
Earthquakes are the rarest of phenomena along the US east coast, and many of the millions caught completely offguard by the temblor said it was the first time they had ever experienced one.
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.
Many workers were bewildered -- and feared the worst -- as their desks swayed violently and the ceilings and walls pitched and shook with fearsome force.
And in a region about to relive the trauma of September 11, 2001 as the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks nears, many suspected terrorism as they raced down stairways to parks and street corners after the temblor struck.
Local officials said schools in the US capital city, which just opened this week after a two-month-long summer break, would also be closed as they determined whether building are safe enough to allow students to return.
Most buildings in the region are not constructed to withstand an earthquake, and several structures, especially older buildings, suffered damage.
Bricks fell from the roof of the embassy of Ecuador in Washington, smashing the window of a parked car. Brick walls and chimneys also toppled in places like Baltimore and northern Virginia, damaging parked cars in some places.
In Washington, the National Cathedral lost part of its towering neo-Gothic spires and suffered cracks in its flying buttresses.
The Pentagon, the world's biggest office building located across the River Potomac from the capital, ordered a brief evacuation, which was carried out calmly. Several hundred people streamed out of the building and officials said there was no damage other than a ruptured water line.
Chucks of masonry and tile also fell from the domed roof of the US Capitol Building where Congress convenes, officials said.
In New York, workers fled office buildings and poured into the streets, many trying in vain to use overloaded cell phone services to contact loved ones.
"I was in the street when the ground shook and I looked up to see the building shaking like a tuning fork," a stunned Mary Daley told AFP in New York City.
The quake even prompted the early closing of courthouse offices -- meaning that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had to wait until Wednesday to collect his passport and leave the country after sexual assault charges against him were dropped.
Fatima Richardson, 28, who was sitting on the steps of New York's state courthouse on her lunch break, told AFP: "You could see the building moving. I was just freaking out."
There was little damage in the town of Mineral, where many windows were broken and some chimneys cracked but church bell towers were still in place.
Power was out, however, in the tiny town where many locals work at a nearby nuclear plant.
David McIntyre, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, said the agency was closely monitoring the situation at the North Anna 1 and 2 plants in Louisa County not far from Mineral, which reported an "alert" after the quake struck.
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Quake sends US East Coast scrambling like 9/11
Washington (AFP) Aug 23, 2011
Thousands of people across the US East Coast raced frantically into the streets Tuesday as an earthquake sent shock waves of the kind last seen almost exactly a decade ago on September 11. The US eastern seaboard has few larger earthquakes. Many workers were bewildered - and feared the worst - as their desks swayed violently and their ceilings and walls shook. In a region days away fro ... read more
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