Mineral, VA — Office buildings, schools and towering landmarks were being inspected Wednesday for hidden structural flaws a day after initial checks turned up sparse damage from a rare East Coast earthquake.
Public schools and a handful of federal government buildings in Washington remained closed for further assessment, and engineers were taking a closer look at cracks in the Washington Monument and broken capstones at the National Cathedral. Some residents of D.C. suburbs were staying in shelters because of structural concerns at their apartment buildings.
Farther south, Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude quake also shattered windows and wrecked buildings near its Virginia epicenter. There were no known deaths or serious injuries.
When the quake struck, many feared terrorism in New York and Washington — places where nerves are raw as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches. The tremblor sent many pouring from high-rises such as the Empire State Building.
“I ran down all 60 flights,” accounting office worker Caitlin Trupiano said. “I wasn’t waiting for the elevator.”
Chris Kardian, working in his garage in suburban Richmond, Va., not far from the epicenter, opted for the more prosaic and plausible: He blamed the shaking on two of his children in the overhead playroom.
“I just thought they were running around and being really loud,” he said. “After about 15 seconds, it didn’t stop and I thought, ‘I don’t have that many kids in the house!'”
The most powerful earthquake to strike the East Coast in 67 years shook buildings and jarred as many as 12 million people. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond in Mineral, and it produced at least four aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 2.2. to 4.2.
The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all monuments and memorials along the National Mall. The Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol and federal agencies in and around Washington were evacuated. Roads out of the city were clogged with commuters headed home.
On Wednesday a handful of federal buildings remained closed, including some offices of the Homeland Security, Agriculture and Interior departments.
Stressed-out D.C. mother of four Marion Babcock, who spent two hours in traffic instead of her normal 25 minutes, did the only sensible thing for her frazzled, frightened kids: “I treated their post-traumatic stress with copious amounts of chocolate mint and cookie dough ice cream.”
The earthquake that devastated Japan released more than 60,000 times more energy than Tuesday’s, but there was real damage. At the majestic Washington National Cathedral, at least three of the four top stones on the central tower fell off, and cracks appeared in the flying buttresses at the cathedral’s east end, the oldest part of the structure. The top of the Washington Monument has a crack.
Ceiling tiles fell to the floor at Reagan National Airport. The gothic-style Smithsonian Castle, built in 1857, had minor cracks and broken glass. And vigorous shaking left a crack and hole in the ceiling at historic Union Station when a chunk of plaster fell near the main entrance.
The steeple and bell tower at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Baltimore were badly damaged, and the building was closed as a precaution.
Amtrak said trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds and crews were inspecting stations and railroad.
The fear in some places was real.
Michael Leman had been mowing a neighbor’s lawn in Mineral when bricks fell from a chimney and the earth heaved a large propane tank about a foot off the ground.
“I thought that tank was about to explode,” he said, “and I ran for dear life.”