- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Washington area spent much of Wednesday cautiously evaluating the structural integrity of its homes, schools, office buildings, bridges, rail lines and tunnels. By the end of the day, it appeared that Tuesday’s earthquake shook nerves more severely than anything else.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported as a result of the 5.8-magnitude quake that jolted much of the eastern United States.

Although many buildings in the D.C. area were closed for inspection, there was a general consensus that the aftermath could have been worse.

Several landmarks reported varying degrees of damage. At the Washington National Cathedral, repair estimates are in the millions of dollars, and officials say insurance won’t cover the costs.

Three of four spires atop the building’s central tower broke off, but the cathedral remains structurally sound. The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, said Wednesday that the damage was “quite serious - but certainly could have been much worse.”

“But there’s nothing in our budget that would allow us to step up and do this,” he said of the repairs, adding that the cathedral would have to “turn to people across the country” for help.

The Washington Monument remained closed as the National Park Service inspected cracks near the top of the 555-foot structure, and cracks were reported at the U.S. Capitol and the Rayburn House Office Building.

Large chunks of stone fell from the clock-tower above offices at the Armed Forces Retirement Home on North Capitol Street and plummeted through the roof of the building. The offices remained closed Wednesday as structural engineers continued work to stabilize the clock tower, which was built in the 1850s, spokeswoman Sheila Abarr said.

”Cranes are coming in tomorrow to shore up the building,” she said.

D.C. schools were closed Wednesday as inspectors made their way through buildings, including 13 educational facilities that were “red-flagged” because of serious damage.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said 100 of the 125 city schools had been inspected as of about 6 p.m. Wednesday. The remaining 25 had not reported any initial damage, so city officials did not expect any problems.

Of the 100 that had been examined, School Without Walls in Northwest had enough problems with the masonry to warrant closure Thursday and possibly Friday.

“It definitely will be closed tomorrow,” Mr. Gray said.

Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest also fell within a “red zone” for significant damage, but “we don’t think sufficient enough to not be able to open the school,” he said.

Mr. Gray said six charter schools had asked for assistance in inspections, but the city did not know of any closures as of late Wednesday. The decision is up to the charter schools, and not the city’s public schools system, the mayor noted.

The mayor said the city is ready to request $10 million from its contingency reserve fund to cover the damage; it must repay it over the next two years.

However, he said, “I don’t think we’ll come anywhere near spending that kind of money.”

After slowing trains to 15 mph Tuesday, Metro was back up and running at full speed Wednesday morning, having completed an inspection of 106 miles of track without finding any damage.

Across the city, there were about 20 reports of structural collapses, many of which involved chimneys, said D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.

On one block in the Takoma neighborhood of Northwest, nearly every other house seemed to have lost its chimney, said Stephanie Kiefer, 23, who was helping her uncle with renovation work at his home when the earthquake struck and shook bricks loose.

“We could see dust coming of the side of the house and the chimney kept swaying back and forth,” she said. “It was sort of like a Jenga stack.”

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor toured damaged areas at the epicenter of the quake, assessing a supermarket in Mineral, Va., and walking through Louisa County High School.

“The damage is more widespread and more significant than the preliminary reports that we had gotten [Tuesday],” Mr. McDonnell said. “The great blessing out of this seems to be with an event of this proportion on the East Coast that there were no significant injuries.”

Mr. McDonnell pledged to Louisa and Mineral residents to “do everything we can at the state level to provide the relief that’s necessary.”

Mr. Cantor said a federal process is under way to assess the damage and address residents and businesses that may not have earthquake insurance.

The pair also toured the North Anna, Va., power station, whose two nuclear reactors shut down automatically Tuesday when the ground started to shake. Dominion Power said Wednesday that all walk-down inspections of equipment most susceptible to seismic activity found that the equipment was in “satisfactory condition.”

“Everything worked exactly as it was supposed to - the automatic shutdown occurring, all of the procedures - all the reports to the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission],” Mr. McDonnell said Wednesday morning.

The earthquake caused relatively minor damage in Maryland, where a handful of apartment buildings in Prince George’s and Calvert counties were evacuated overnight because of structural damage and severed water and gas lines, according to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.<t$>

The quake also damaged several vacant brick buildings in Baltimore, which spokesman Ed McDonough said were “in pretty bad disrepair to begin with.”

Mr. McDonough said the agency received no reports of injuries and began shifting its focus Tuesday night from the earthquake to Hurricane Irene’s anticipated arrival this weekend.

Prince George’s County school officials said 32 schools will remain closed Thursday.

Officials say at least four aftershocks have been reported since Tuesday’s earthquake. The most serious was a 4.8-magnitude quake just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.

• Joseph Weber, David Sherfinski and David Hill contributed to this report.