D.C. still years, millions away from fixing quake damage

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Six months after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake stunned the nation’s capital, the Washington Monument is still closed and awaiting $15 million in repairs, the D.C. government is looking for a federal reimbursement for its hodgepodge of damage and the Washington National Cathedral needs $18 million for major restoration efforts that could take up to five years.

The rare Aug. 23 quake caught off-guard many of the federal workers, city residents, students and tourists who flood the city each day.

Many of them had never felt the ground shake before and rushed into the streets instead of “sheltering in place” in doorways or under a table. The District’s monuments and museums were evacuated, and Freedom Plaza was jammed with tourists and federal workers who watched as emergency vehicles raced up and down city streets on the sunny Tuesday afternoon.

“Very simply, none of us knew what to do,”said Brian Alexander, director of emergency management and utilities for the Catholic University of America. “Some people ran to the doorway, some people went outside.”

While the city analyzed its procedures and repaired its schools in short order, damage to a pair of the city’s most iconic structures has left a lasting imprint.

The National Park Service expects the design phase for repairs to the Washington Monument to last into midspring before the project goes out to bid, spokeswoman Carol Johnson said Wednesday. The Illinois-based company whose employees rappelled down the sides of the 555-foot-tall obelisk to examine the damage - Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. - is drawing up the design papers on what needs to be done.

Earthquake-related repairs to the monument, which excludes resulting water damage and pre-existing conditions, are expected to cost $15 million, Ms. Johnson said. The project will be funded by $7.5 million in federal appropriations and $7.5 million from philanthropist David Rubenstein.

Farther north, the ornate cathedral in Northwest Washington arguably fared the worst of any building in the city. Cathedral officials have raised $7 million to begin the first phase of restoration, to four corner spires and flying buttresses that were damaged in the quake. But the estimated cost of the damage is $20 million, according to a six-month update provided by the cathedral’s communications firm.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported as a result of the quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was centered about 34 miles north of Richmond, near Mineral, Va.

Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management alerted residents of eight counties and the city of Fredericksburg that they have until March 5 to register for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for quake-related costs such as temporary housing and home repairs.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray formally asked the Obama administration for $6.8 million in October. The city needed a disaster declaration from the president before it could request funding from FEMA for repairs to schools, universities, hospitals, government buildings, roads, bridges and tunnels damaged by the quake.

D.C. officials “red-flagged” 13 schools after the quake for mostly cosmetic issues. One high school, the School Without Walls, had to send its students to Eastern High School for two days while crews completed masonry repairs.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency said the city has so far received no money from FEMA.

“While the process may be perceived as slow, the care used in developing accurate worksheets ensures we are able to avoid future audits,” said spokeswoman Robyn Johnson.

Said City Administrator Allen Lew: “This stuff takes a while. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

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