Even an earthquake expert such as Secretary Wayne Clough, the engineer who is head of the Smithsonian Institution, didn’t expect a major 5.8 quake in Washington, D.C.

“We were having a meeting with some of my regents and education people. At first I thought it was a truck with some heavy equipment,” said Clough. But quickly his 14 years in California and his background as an earthquake engineer told him differently.

People crowd Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington Tuesday as they evacuate buildings after an earthquake hits the Washington area. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

All the buildings at the Smithsonian were closed, including the landmark Castle building, where Clough was meeting.Clough said a decision would be announced later Tuesday about Wednesday’s schedule.

An initial survey of the Smithsonian buildings, “showed some cracks in beams and perhaps in some of the foundations,” Clough said. In the Castle, which was built in 1857, Clough said there was plaster all over his office.

Earthquakes are rare on the East Coast because of the solid bedrock. “The bedrock here is sound and so it carries the wave easier,” he said.

Other museums were evacuated Tuesday as well. The Corcoran Gallery of Art is closed to the public on Tuesdays and the staff was evacuated. No damage was reported at the Corcoran.

The Phillips Collection evacuated about 200 people and none of the three connecting buildings sustained any damage, according to the museum. All the art was safe, said a spokeswoman.

Mount Vernon, the estate and museum of George Washington, evacuated about 40 visitors from the mansion but no damage was reported.

The Newseum was also evacuated.

The National Gallery of Art reported minor plaster and paint had fallen in corners of the West Building but an early assessment didn’t show any damage to any art.


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