A big shake-up occurred recently in Washington, D.C., although it was not of the variety that some would prefer. The nation’s capital was taken by surprise when it was hit by a 5.9-intensity earthquake that rocked the East Coast and was felt as far away as Boston, North Carolina and even Michigan. Although early reports said that the Washington Monument was tilting slightly, it was later determined that the stately obelisk only had damage to some of the stone in the pyramid that tops the monument. Approximately 45 minutes after the 1:51 p.m. quake, Fox News started reporting that it had received reports that the Washington Monument was leaning. Atlanticwire noted that Twitter “immediately seized on it” and quoted Twitterer Patrick Tansey, as tweeting that “I just walked past the Washington Monument, it’s not tilted at all.”
The Associated Press reported that “The National Park Service (NPS) says all memorials and monuments on the National Mall were evacuated and closed after an earthquake struck near the nation’s capital. No damage was reported.” Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said there was “absolutely no damage” to the Lincoln Memorial or other memorials along the Mall. According to the NPS, a preliminary inspection shows the Washington Monument to be structurally sound. But it “is evaluating the structures to ensure that they are structurally sound and safe for all visitors. The Washington Monument, because of its structural complexities, will remain closed until further notice. It is possible that the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial could open as early as this evening after preliminary inspection. The Old Post Office Tower will open on Wednesday morning.”
One Washington landmark was damaged in the quake. Washington National Cathedral, an impressive Gothic structure favored by tourists, suffered what is being termed as “significant” damage. “The building will retain structural integrity, but the damage to the central tower is quite significant,” Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said, noting that engineers and stonemasons are assessing the full extent of the damage, how costly the repairs will be and when the cathedral might reopen.
The quake was shallow, occurring three miles below the earth’s surface. Washington Metro and commuter rail services ran normally the next morning, but authorities closed several government buildings pending damage inspections. These include the Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security and Interior. The Labor Department and Health and Human Services buildings were closed at first but later reopened. D.C. public schools were closed, in addition to schools in several districts in Virginia and Maryland.
Not surprisingly, there were some initial fears that terrorists had struck the region as office workers were evacuated from their buildings. “In Washington, 10 years later, every day is September 12,” Marc Fisher. “When the office ceiling shifts to and fro, and the pens and cups fall off the desk, it’s scary enough. But in a terror-scarred city, thoughts go immediately to evil attack rather than natural disaster.” Or, as the Los Angeles Times says, “when a building shakes in Washington, ‘earthquake’ does not spring to mind. Instead, as the magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the capital on Tuesday, it sparked immediate fears of a terrorist attack for congressional staff members accustomed to repeated warnings about man-made threats.”
“At first we weren’t sure exactly what it was, but as we heard the Capitol Police officers and other staff shouting evacuation orders, we knew it was serious,” said congressional staffer Rachel Semmel, who fled without her keys or wallet. “For a brief moment during evacuation, it was very scary.”
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said that some buildings in the Capitol complex sustained structural damage and “a couple minor twisted ankles. Aside from people being a little bit anxious and nervous,” most Capitol complex employees are fine, Gainer said.
To watch the White House shake during the earthquake, click here.