Officials Assess Damage After Rare Quake in Eastern US

Posted August 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Some Washington landmarks and schools are closed Wednesday, as authorities assess damage from Tuesday's rare earthquake that was felt throughout eastern North America .

U.S. Geological Survey officials say the 5.8 magnitude earthquake was the largest to strike the eastern part of the U.S. since 1944.

The quake, centered in the small Virginia town of Mineral, rattled buildings as far away as Ottawa, Canada and forced the evacuation of businesses in major cities.

Many people were back to work Wednesday in Washington, 144 kilometers northeast of the quake's epicenter.

Officials say the Washington Monument, the 170-meter obelisk located on the National Mall, is closed indefinitely after cracks were found at the top. The Washington National Cathedral is also closed to visitors after losing three of its four Gothic stone structures at the top of its main tower.

After the quake, authorities evacuated the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and other federal buildings, including VOA headquarters, which temporarily stopped normal broadcasting.

As the ground shook, some people in Washington and New York initially feared terrorism, as the U.S. prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. For many residents, this was their first time in an earthquake.

The quake lasted no more than 30 seconds and caused mostly minor damage to buildings, leaving cracks and broken glass and bringing down bricks and ceiling tiles. No serious casualties were reported. Authorities said several smaller aftershocks followed the quake.

Near the quake's epicenter in rural Virginia, the North Anna nuclear power station stopped operations and was forced to run on back-up diesel generators, one of which failed. Officials said the public was not in danger, and that the power plant is designed to withstand a stronger magnitude 6.2 earthquake.