- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Washington Monument will likely need additional repairs following the recent earthquake because crews have found water inside the structure, the National Park Service said Wednesday.

The 555-foot-tall monument has been closed to the public since Aug. 23, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake created several cracks in the structure. Engineers last week sealed the cracks they initially found, but employees this week found puddles in several stairwells inside the structure — which they believe to be rainwater that leaked through this weekend during Hurricane Irene.

“We have to find where the leaks are,” said NPS spokeswoman Carol Johnson. “Most of the cracks we’re talking about are in the seams between the stones and where mortar popped out. There are more leaks than cracks.”

Engineers initially sealed five cracks found in the monument’s stone facing and mortar damage in the seams between stones, Miss Johnson said. The damage occurred on the structure’s south and west sides.

She also said engineers have yet to begin searching for the yet-to-be-sealed cracks, and are still assessing overall damage done to the monument. Miss Johnson said the engineers will detail their findings in a “complex” report, but declined to say when that would be completed.

Officials have also declined to give a timeline for reopening the inside of the monument, which has long hosted tours but is now closed and surrounded by a 100-foot-radius fence.

Miss Johnson said the monument, completed in 1884, is still structurally sound, but that visitors are being kept at a distance mostly to prevent them from being hit by possible falling debris.

The park service closed all of its D.C. monuments and parks the day of the earthquake but reopened all but the Washington Monument shortly thereafter. Its other facilities did not sustain any notable damage, officials said.