High-climbing engineers focus on tip of damaged Washington Monument

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High-climbing engineers looking for earthquake damage along the Washington Monument’s exterior focused Thursday on areas of interest near the tip of the 555-foot-tall obelisk, the National Park Service said.

The four-member team, harnessed to nylon climbing ropes, returned to the monument for a second day of inspections.

The first full day of climbing went “pretty quick” said park service spokeswoman Carol Johnson. “They are on track.”

Tuesday’s attempt was postponed, and the entire process should take five days.

Park service spokesman Bill Line said team members found what they expected, including loose mortar and pieces of broken stone caused by the Aug. 23 earthquake. He said the engineers are focusing on the angled part of the monument, known as the pyramidion.

Dan Lemieux, manager of the Washington Monument inspection project, holds a 10-pound, dictionary-size chunk of marble his team removed from the monument while checking for damage from the Aug. 23 earthquake. (Associated Press)

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Dan Lemieux, manager of the Washington Monument inspection project, holds a 10-pound, ... more >

“There are some areas of interest that need further examination,” said Mr. Line, who did not give specifics.

The team will present its findings to the park service, and by mid-October, officials hope to be able to announce a timetable for repairs and perhaps a date when the monument can reopen.

The magnitude 5.8 earthquake left several large cracks in the 126-year-old structure’s huge marble stones.

Despite the damage, “the structure is sound,” Ms. Johnson said.

The team of two men and two women from Northbrook, Ill.-based Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. plan to use special cinch lines that allow them to maneuver horizontally along each of the monument’s four sides to look for additional damage.

Five hundred feet below, the operation continues to draw the wonder of passing tourists.

“You’d have to be out of your mind to do that,” said 69-year-old Bill Fairchild, of La Grange, Ill.

Ms. Johnson said 32-year-old Emma Cardini and the three other climbers are treating the job as “just another day’s work,” though she added that Ms. Cardini has acknowledged that scrabbling on the face of the Washington Monument is “really awesome.”

“She’s really enjoying it,” Ms. Johnson said.

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