Structural engineering teams fanned out across the Washington region Wednesday, assessing millions of dollars of damage caused by a forceful earthquake that left potentially dangerous cracks in some landmarks, federal buildings, schools, churches and homes.
In Prince George’s County, where nearly 200 public schools were shut for inspections, officials said 32 would remain closed Thursday because of safety concerns. Nearly all D.C. schools, which had also closed for inspections, were expected to reopen.
The Washington Monument, Washington National Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution’s “Castle” also were closed as inspectors appraised the damage. An inspection Wednesday revealed additional cracks in the Washington Monument’s uppermost section, the pyramidion, and the National Park Service said it has contracted with two firms that investigate structures damaged in earthquakes.
“The Washington Monument is one of America's most important landmarks, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that it is restored completely and correctly,” Robert A. Vogel, superintendent of the Mall, said in a statement.
The National Building Museum also was closed, forcing officials to move the opening event for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Washington Convention Center.
“It’s just surreal,” said Joe Alonso, head mason of the cathedral in Northwest Washington, as he stood 300 feet above the street on the roof of the building he has tended for nearly 30 years, surveying cracked limestone angels, toppled spires and off-kilter pillars.
In Prince George’s, county officials kept a shelter open for a second night for hundreds of people displaced by the condemnation of two earthquake-damaged apartment buildings.
Although the full cost of the damage from Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake may not be known for days or weeks, it is expected to be high and mostly uninsured.
EQECAT, a California-based firm that helps insurance companies determine catastrophe risks, estimated that the quake, which rocked the East Coast from Georgia to Ontario, caused $200 million to $300 million in damage. Less than $100 million is insured.
Tom Larsen, a senior vice president of the company, said only 5 percent of East Coast property owners have earthquake coverage.
Government officials across the region encouraged residents to check their homes for cracks in foundations and chimneys and for leaks in gas and water lines.
Maryland, Virginia and District officials said it was too early to estimate the cost of earthquake damage.
But in the District, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said he is asking for $10 million in contingency funds to cover the costs of inspections and repairs. Gray said that 55 schools received some damage, including 13 that were “red-flagged” as more seriously damaged.
Late Wednesday, D.C. officials said School Without Walls would remain closed Thursday. They were also considering whether to keep Bancroft Elementary School shut for another day. Classes would resume at all other schools, they said.
In Prince George’s, it was unclear when all schools would reopen. Thirty-two campuses were to remain shut Thursday for what the school system called “ongoing structural assessments.”
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said, “We are working as quickly as possible to get the necessary building inspections completed so that school can resume for all students.”
Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), said officials have received reports of damages but not of the associated costs.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), while touring the earthquake epicenter in Mineral, Va., pledged to pay for first responders’ overtime and for damage to public infrastructure and equipment.
“We know there are some things that can we do,’’ McDonnell said.
At Miller’s Market, where boxes of Hungry Jack mashed potatoes and bottles of Wesson oil were strewed on the floor, the owners told the governor that they are not covered for damage that is likely to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Please, help us,’’ B.J. Singh pleaded.
“We will look for ways to help,’’ McDonnell replied.
“We need all the help we can get,’’ Singh said.
Although the damage to Washington National Cathedral is not structural, it will cost millions of dollars to repair the elaborate exterior. Samuel Lloyd, the cathedral dean, said an interfaith service Saturday to mark the opening of the King memorial would be moved to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington.
Meanwhile, engineers are figuring out how to stabilize cracked spires standing 300 feet above the ground. Three spires, or pinnacles, fell rom the cathedral’s highest point in Tuesday’s quake, and a fourth shifted its position.
The cathedral is not insured for earthquakes, a spokesman said.
Minor damage was reported to the facade and gold spires at the Mormon Temple in Kensington.
Among those hit hardest by the quake were the nearly 500 residents of two apartment buildings, on Good Hope Road in Hillcrest Heights and Curtis Drive in Temple Hills. Prince George’s officials reported problems with elevator shafts and other structural damage, and they condemned the buildings. On Wednesday, dozens of residents wandered around the Hillcrest Heights Community Center, expressing concern about where they will live.
Barry L. Stanton, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for public safety, estimated the damage at $650,000 for both buildings.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said the apartments may be cleared for the residents to return. The shelter would stay open as a backup, he said.
Now, Baker said, he will turn his attention to the approaching Hurricane Irene. “At this point, we’re ready for just about anything in this government,” he said.
Staff writers Michelle Boorstein, Chris Davenport, Elizabeth Flock, Christy Goodman, Allison Klein, Anita Kumar, Michael E. Ruane, Robert Samuels, Ian Shapira, Nikita Stewart, Susan Svrluga, Patricia Sullivan, Bill Turque and John Wagner.