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Capital’s still a bit shaken

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — One year after a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the Washington, D.C., region, the Washington Monument remains closed for repairs and other reminders are still visible: Netting hangs from the ceiling at Union Station, and scaffolding is still in place at the Washington National Cathedral.

The Washington Monument could stay closed until 2014 as it undergoes $15 million in repairs. Restoration of the cathedral, one of the hardest hit buildings, is expected to take five to 10 years and cost at least $20 million.

The D.C. area Thursday marked the anniversary with events including the ringing of bells at the cathedral and school earthquake drills at 1:51 p.m., the time of the temblor.

Howard Evergreen, who works in Louisa County, Va., the epicenter, had no plans to commemorate the anniversary. “We just want it to all go away,” he said, describing residents as still edgy from the spate of aftershocks.

In Mineral, Va., town manager Douglas Polen added that almost everyone seems to have a personal earthquake story.

“Many laugh it off or wear their ‘I survived the Mineral Earthquake’ T-shirts, but everyone seems to relive it a little every day,” he said. “We still have tremors, and the railroad that goes through town — and right behind town hall — feels like a 2.0 every time it passes by. But overall, the town is progressing, and I would say is as ‘back to normal’ as could be hoped for.”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who brought in earthquake damage specialists from the West Coast to help assess the damage, expects the recovery to take years.

Students at two damaged Louisa County schools are still meeting in trailer classrooms, with new schools not expected to open sooner than summer of 2014. Repairs to the Washington Monument are expected to begin this fall. At Union Station, the netting protects travelers from loose plaster during repairs.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that as much as a third of the U.S. population may have felt the earthquake, more than any other earthquake in U.S. history, with reports coming from southeastern Canada to Florida.

The quake caused an estimated $200 million to $300 million in damage, according to the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium.

Several small earthquakes occur every month in the eastern U.S., but the Aug. 23, 2011, temblor was among the largest in the region in the last century, according to the geological survey.

In Virginia, about 6,400 homeowners and renters received nearly $16.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while local and state governments received more than $31 million to help repair buildings and infrastructure, according to the governor’s office.

The National Cathedral remains open after it was deemed structurally sound by engineers, said spokesman Richard Weinberg, though netting remains in place in the nave as a precaution against falling debris.

The cathedral marked the anniversary by beginning the restoration with masons setting a newly carved stone into one of the damaged pinnacles from the 300-foot-high central tower. It also announced its first major restoration gift, a $5-million grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.

Officials planned to gather Thursday near the Washington Monument and use the anniversary to call attention to the first Great SouthEast ShakeOut earthquake drill, planned for this fall. The drill will give residents of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia an opportunity to learn an expression familiar to Californians: “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”

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