The early-afternoon quake, which damaged older buildings and shut down much of the nation’s capital Tuesday, was followed by several aftershocks, including a 3.4-magnitude temblor early Wednesday. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded that aftershock at 12:45 a.m. Eastern time 39 miles northwest of Richmond. Like Tuesday’s quake, it was a shallow one, occurring three miles below the surface.
Metro and commuter rail services returned to normal Wednesday morning, but federal authorities closed a number of government buildings pending further damage inspections. Among them were buildings of the departments of agriculture, homeland security and interior. The Labor Department and Health and Human Services buildings were initially closed but later reopened. D.C. public schools were closed, as were schools in several districts in Virginia and Maryland.
Officials also shut the Washington Monument, the Washington National Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution Building, known as the castle, because of earthquake damage.
Cracks were found “at the very, very top” of the Washington Monument, said National Park Service spokesman Bill Line. He said a structural engineering team is collecting data and inspecting every inch of the 555-foot, 5 1/8-inch obelisk.
“This may well take all day today” and several more days, Line said.
Also affected was the National Building Museum, which was supposed to host a gala dinner Wednesday night ahead of the Aug. 28 dedication of a new memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But the quake damaged the building, forcing organizers to relocate the dinner to the Washington Convention Center.
Despite the closures, federal agencies were officially open Wednesday, with unscheduled leave and telework available.
It was not a killer quake, nor even a particularly injurious one. But if it didn’t add up to a natural disaster, it was still a startling geological event, the strongest East Coast tremor in 67 years, and it effectively blew up the workday in Washington on Tuesday.
Any assumption that the region is seismically serene was corrected at 1:51 p.m. when a fault near the small town of Mineral, Va., suddenly ruptured. In Boston or Charleston or Detroit it might have felt like a sudden case of vertigo. Closer to the epicenter it was not so subtle. It began with a shudder, as if a helicopter were landing nearby or perhaps someone had turned on a large piece of machinery. Within a couple of seconds, it grew into a heaving, bucking, no-doubt-about-it earthquake.
It was over in less than a minute. Workers surged out of office buildings, and cellphone networks quickly clogged. The Federal Emergency Management Agency eventually sent out a statement asking the public to switch to e-mail or text messages.