- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cracks at the top of the Washington Monument caused by Tuesday’s earthquake will keep the structure closed to the public indefinitely while engineers complete inspections and recommend repairs.

“We have no idea how long it’s going to be closed,” National Park Service spokesman Bill Line said Thursday.

A team of Park Service structural engineers, historical architects and engineers with expertise in earthquakes will assess the damage to the 555-foot-tall structure in the next two weeks. A report recommending repairs and a plan for making them would be issued two weeks after that, Mr. Line said. After repairs are completed, a final inspection of the monument would be required.

“Only at that point would we reopen to the American public,” he said.

Inspections Wednesday uncovered a 4-foot-long crack in the pyramidion, or peak of the structure. At it’s widest, the crack measures 1 inch across.

Photos released by the Park Service also show debris strewn across corridors in the structure’s interior.

While the monument, completed in 1884, remains closed, the grounds were reopened except for an area about 100 feet outside of the plaza.

Other monuments and museums also reopened.

Damage to two other D.C. buildings led officials to move events planned around Sunday’s scheduled dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.

A Saturday service commemorating the memorial’s dedication was planned at the Washington National Cathedral but had to be moved to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception because of fallen spires and other damage at the cathedral.

In addition, cathedral officials said Thursday that the church will be closed at least through Sept. 4 as a safety precaution and that Sunday services will be moved until then to Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Officials said they also are preparing the damaged church for Hurricane Irene and estimate repairs will cost millions of dollars.

An invitation-only gala dinner to kick off King dedication events Friday also was moved from the National Building Museum to the Washington Convention Center. The Building Museum was closed after the quake for inspections of its infrastructure but no major structural issues were found and it reopened Thursday.

However, two Lego creations on display at the museum were slightly damaged. A17.6-foot-tall model of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and a 7.6-foot-tall model of the Empire State Building each lost some height after pieces toppled off the top.

Officials say residual trembling from the earthquake could continue for some time.

Eight aftershocks have shaken the region since the original quake just outside of Mineral, Va, according to the National Earthquake Information Center. The strongest, a 4.5-magnitude quake, occurred about 36 miles northwest of Richmond at about 1:07 a.m. Thursday.

“These will continue for several weeks to maybe a month or so,” said John Bellini, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, adding that their frequency should decrease over time.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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