- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2012

The most powerful earthquake in Virginia recorded history rattled the area one year ago, but geology analysts and emergency officials Thursday warned that the city still is far from being fully restored or ready for a future disaster.

“We can never predict when the next disaster will be or what the next disaster will be,” said Timothy Manning, deputy administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “But we do know there is a hazard here.”

On Aug. 23, 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in Mineral, Va., about 90 miles from the District. The trembling was felt in some 20 states and caused from $200 million to $300 million in damage, including its impact on the Washington Monument and Washington National Cathedral.

Standing across the street from the monument, U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia K. McNutt called the temblor “the most significant earthquake to ever strike east of the Rocky Mountains.”

“This earthquake took aim and Washington was in its path,” she said.

Only minor injuries were reported in the area, but two landmarks familiar to the D.C. skyline were seriously damaged. The 555-foot-tall Washington Monument has been closed since the day of the quake, and National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Bob Vogel on Thursday said the structure would require full scaffolding as part of the restoration process. A separate project to repair the monument’s elevator has been completed.

Earlier this year, park service officials said repairs to the monument’s interior and the 4-foot crack at its top would cost about $15 million and keep the famous tourist attraction closed until 2014.

“I, along with many of you, vividly remember where I was on that day,” Mr. Vogel said. “And I can honestly say my job has never been the same since.”

The National Cathedral in Northwest was closed for nearly three months while engineers assessed the cracks to its pinnacles, stonesand flying buttresses. As bells tolled at the exact time of the earthquake, cathedral leaders announced a $5 million grant to aid in the$20 million neededto repair damage to the cathedral.

Last year, D.C. residents spilled into the streets, clamoring for their cellphones and looking for the source of the rumblings. On Thursday, it was business as usual for employees and tourists who wandered past the monument midmorning. Only a few passers-by stopped to investigate the reason for a line of cameras and a panel of speakers.

Mr. Manning said the stream of people fleeing office buildings instead of staying put and taking cover as the District shook last yearwas a “good indicator” that “D.C. residents may not understand the appropriate steps to take” in an earthquake.

Ms. McNutt echoed Mr. Manning’s observations, saying, “The only emergency they’re really well prepared for is a fire drill.”

While the East Coast can brace for the next quake by participating in a multistate earthquake drill in October, Ms. McNutt said earthquake analysts with the geology survey are set to continue researching the aftereffects of the earthquake, which produced roughly 450 aftershocks.

Ms. McNutt said analysts are able “to go out in the field because we caught [the earthquake] in the act; what it looked like before and what it looked like after.”