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Work Underway to Repair Quake-Damaged Washington Monument

  • Jeff Swicord

Work is under way on the Washington Monument - one of the U.S. capital's best-known tourist attractions - to repair damage from the earthquake that struck the East Coast of the United States in August.

It is a startling sight atop one of the most recognizable structures in Washington: a rope rigger, climbing out on the tip of the 169-meter-high Washington Monument.

The rigger is making preparations for a team of engineers to rappel down the sides of the monument - to inspect damage from the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Washington in August.

Jeff Comer stopped to watch on his way to work.

"I knew they were looking at the earthquake damage, but then I saw this guy up on the monument and I have never seen anybody up there before," he said. "It’s really cool!"

Bonnie Saxen and a friend, visiting from Pierson, Iowa, thought the man trying to climb the monument was deranged.

"And then we realized he’s a professional climber and he is checking to see if there are any cracks after the earthquake here," Saxon said. "And I’m glad I’m not him!"

Recently-released surveillance video from the observation deck near the top shows the monument shaking violently during the earthquake. Nikolette Williams is the park ranger in the video with about 20 visitors on the observation deck.

"I begin to feel the ground beneath me shaking and then I feel the whole entire building is violently rocking around," she said. "And I make the decision that the visitors need to get out."

Ranger Williams yells for the visitors to run down the stairs as debris begins to fall on them.

"I don’t know if it’s an attack, I don’t know if it’s an earthquake," she said. "At the next level I throw open the emergency exit door and they all begin to evacuate out."

Engineers will conduct a block by block inspection of the monument's exterior over the next five days. The National Park Service says the worst damage is in the pyramid-shaped top. Large cracks have developed in the stone and rainwater is leaking in, causing further damage. The monument’s elevator has also been damaged.

"We actually have pictures of all the individual stones on the exterior," Williams said. "And so what they are going to be doing is taking pictures and examining the stones now to find the extent of the cracking on the outside since the earthquake."

The Park Service says the damage survey will give it an idea of how long the monument will be closed and what the total cost of repairs will be. The good news is - one of the nation’s most treasured monument is structurally sound.