Hurricane Irene leaves minor flooding in Washington Monument

August 31, 2011

Rain from Hurricane Irene leaked through high levels of the Washington Monument , causing minor flooding in upper stairwells and possibly indicating that the structure suffered more cracks from last week’s earthquake than previously known, National Park Service officials said.

Park Service workers found small pools of water as they inspected the monument Monday, even though engineers had temporarily sealed cracks found after the 5.8 earthquake that shook the Washington region and beyond Aug. 23, said Carol Johnson, a Park Service spokeswoman. On Friday, engineers suspended from ropes to patch those areas, she said.

The puddles, which followed a 3.8-inch soaking at Reagan National Airport over the weekend, have prompted engineers to search for additional cracks.

After the earthquake, only four exterior stones were found to be cracked, Johnson said. Other damage from the temblor was linked to the soft mortar inserted between stones during a renovation that began in 1999, she said.

“That was meant to crumble, to give the structure flexibility to preserve the historic stones. In a way, the system worked,” Johnson said. “Now we have to find where it is leaking.”

Small amounts of rainfall often are found inside the monument, Johnson said, but officials did not expect to see as much as they found Monday. Johnson said that the puddles were above the 400-foot level of the 555-foot obelisk.

Park Service officials are awaiting a report from an engineering firm to determine how and when permanent repairs will be made. Engineers have told them that the monument is structurally sound, and it is possible the site could reopen even as repairs are made, Johnson said.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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