- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anticipation was building Wednesday morning as a crew of engineers prepared to climb the Washington Monument to begin inspecting the exterior for damage caused by last month’s earthquake. The first engineer emerged from a hatch atop the obelisk in the late morning.

The team of two men and two women arrived at the 555-foot monument about 8:30 a.m. and spent several hours setting up equipment and preparing for the descent, said Dan Lemieux, one of the managers of the project for engineering firm Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates Inc. He could not predict exactly when the inspection would begin.

Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the park service, says the team is eager to begin the work.

“They cannot wait to get out there,” she said.

The team plans to ascend and descend the monument to check each stone on the monument for cracks, chips and other damage caused by the 5.8-magnitude quake that shook the nation’s capital Aug. 23. When breaks are needed, they will make the 12 to 15 minute descent together.

Each team member will be carrying several items, including a digital camera, an iPad that includes data from the 1999 restoration of the monument, a two-way radio, masonry tools that will allow them to remove loose pieces of stone or mortar and a soft mallet for audio testing.

The team is in frequent contact with the National Weather Service and will not work on the monument’s exterior if there’s a chance of lightning or heavy winds. The weather was calm and mostly cloudy late Wednesday morning after an earlier thunderstorm and showers.

The inspection of the monument’s exterior was delayed a day because of lightning. A team worked for several hours Tuesday setting up equipment and creating a protective barrier around the monument’s lightning rods.

The inspection is expected to last several days and the team has not ruled out working over the weekend.

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