Oklahoma rattled by 4.7 earthquake

Image: Location of the epicenter. Image credit: Google MapsThe third-largest earthquake in state history rattled central Oklahoma early Saturday and could be felt as far as Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.

"We have reports of it being felt very widely, as far south as Plano, Texas, and up into Fort Leavenworth, Kan.," said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.

Heather Spicer of Sapulpa, Okla., told The Oklahoman the quake woke her whole household, including the dog.

"At first I thought an airplane had crashed nearby," Spicer said. "But now I believe it was an earthquake because the whole house just kept vibrating with what sounded like distant thunder outside."

The 4.7 magnitude quake was reported at 2:12 a.m. with an epicenter about six miles north of Prague, Okla., about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City, according to the USGS. The quake was the third-largest in state history, Caruso said, following a temblor that shook Noble, Okla., on Oct. 13, 2010, and a 5.5 quake reported in El Reno, Okla., about 30 miles west of the capital, on April 9, 1952.

The quake was followed by nine aftershocks in the same area, Caruso said.

He said it was difficult to say what caused the quake, but that it originated from rocks moving sideways on a "strike slip" fault similar to the San Andreas Fault. The Oklahoma fault is known as the Wilzetta Fault, also the Seminole uplift, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which reported more than 30 aftershocks associated with Saturday's quake.

No injuries have been reported, but there have been reports of minor damage from items falling off walls, according to staff of the Lincoln County sheriff's office who spoke with The Times.

Oklahoma City police told The Times they have received several 911 calls but no reports of injuries or damage.


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Image: Epicenter of the earthquake in yellow, east of Oklahoma City. Image credit: Google Maps

Proposed aid for Washington National Cathedral draws criticism

In another political aftershock from the summer's rare East Coast earthquake, a bid by the mayor of Washington to secure federal aid for the damaged Washington National Cathedral is drawing criticism from those who say it runs counter to separation of church and state.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray is seeking $15 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs to the cathedral, which was seriously damaged in the 5.8 temblor Aug. 23.

But Joseph L. Conn, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, blogged on the organization's website, "Asking the taxpayers to pick up the tab sets a very bad precedent and jeopardizes a critically important edifice that protects us all: the wall of separation between church and state."

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, agreed.

"The United States government should not be using the money of taxpayers who affiliate with many different religions -– or no religion -– to build, repair or maintain religious institutions."

But Gray, who toured the cathedral last week, said the edifice is a "national treasure" that draws half a million visitors a year who are important to the capital’s economy. Others describe it as  a national landmark deserving of government repair funds.

"This is a church, and we would never say that we weren’t," Andrew Hullinger, the cathedral’s senior director of finance and administration, said in an interview. "But we are a whole lot more than just a church.'' The cathedral has been the location of presidential inaugural prayer services and presidential funerals and memorial services.

The cathedral this year received a $700,000 "Save America’s Treasures" grant from the National Park Service, which it now plans to put toward the cost of repairs.

Inspected by the same crew of rappelling engineers that scaled the Washington Monument to inspect for earthquake damage, the cathedral is planning a fundraising drive.

Scaffolding is up on the outside, and netting is in place in the nave as a precaution against falling debris.

All four damaged stone pinnacles have been removed from the 300-foot central tower for repair. The building is structurally sound, Hullinger said, but the flying buttresses suffered stress fracturing, and decorative work, such as as gargoyles, "took a beating."

The cathedral hopes to reopen to the public Nov. 12.

The repairs could take years because the cathedral is handmade, with individually carved stones. "Even the stones that don’t need to be repaired still need to be disassembled to reach parts that were damaged," Hullinger said.

There has already been controversy over FEMA’s denial of aid to the Virginia county that was at the epicenter of the quake.

Although about 1,000 homes in Louisa County were damaged, FEMA determined that the damage to dwellings "was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments and voluntary agencies."

The decision angered Virginia officials, who are appealing.


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PHOTO: Members of the difficult-access team of engineers Katie Francis, left, and Emma Cardini rappel down the facade of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington to check damage from the recent East Coast earthquake/AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Political aftershocks over denial of quake aid to Virginia

New quake 
Seven weeks after a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted the East Coast, political aftershocks are reverberating after FEMA denied aid to the Virginia county at the epicenter of the temblor.

About 1,000 homes in Louisa County were damaged in the Aug. 23 quake, including a number that are uninhabitable, according to state officials, who estimate the damage at more than $80 million.

A high school and elementary school have been closed because of damage. High school students are sharing the middle school campus with students attending class on longer, alternating days.  Temporary structures were brought in for the displaced elementary school students.

Yet FEMA has determined that the damage to dwellings "was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments and voluntary agencies," the agency's director, W. Craig Fugate, said in a letter to Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.

"If damage from a once-in-a-generation, 5.8-magnitude earthquake does not qualify for federal disaster relief, then I don’t know what does," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement.

Louisa County was in the national spotlight the day of the quake, but county officials say the attention has faded as damage to the Washington Monument and Washington National Cathedral attracted more sustained notice.

"Our 15 minutes went real quick," Louisa County Supervisor Willie L. Harper remarked in an interview Monday.

McDonnell vowed to appeal FEMA's decision to the White House if necessary.

"Disaster relief and public safety are core functions of the federal government," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, volunteer groups are ill-equipped to repair earthquake damage and while state and local officials are doing everything they can, federal assistance is necessary in ensuring that affected Virginians are able to get their homes back in working order and get back on their feet again."

 McDonnell is seeking assistance such as low-interest loans for homeowners, renters and businesses, unemployment assistance, disaster housing assistance and crisis counseling.

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the town of Mineral in Louisa County.

"This is the kind of disaster where federal assistance is justified and very much needed," said Bob Spieldenner of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said in an interview Monday.

"We’ve got some people who are living in homes they shouldn’t be living in,’’ he added.

Harper called FEMA's decision a "great disappointment" but said officials were gathering additional information in hopes of persuading the agency to reconsider its decision.

"Some homes are completely off foundations,’’ he said.


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Photo: A sign in Mineral, Va., after the Aug. 23 earthquake. Credit: Getty Images

National Cathedral will open doors -- and ask for $25 million

National Cathedral 
Nov. 12 will be a big day for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The cathedral will not only open its doors for the first time since an earthquake damaged the landmark, it will be kicking a $25-million donation campaign into high gear.

Felt from North Carolina to Boston, the 5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23 knocked down parts of the English Gothic cathedral's four pinnacles, gargoyles and other ornamental fixtures around the perimeter. Additional damage followed on Sept. 7, when a crane working on the south side of the cathedral to stabilize debris fell against another facility, the Herb Cottage.

“We’re going to need the support of people across the country,” said Richard Weinberg, a spokesman for the cathedral. “We’ll be appealing to the National Cathedral Assn. [the Cathedral’s nonprofit fundraising foundation], who were responsible for building the cathedral in the first place, but we also want to reach new people who have heard about the earthquake coverage. The cathedral does serve as the spiritual home of the nation.”

The repair work is already underway, with a 550-ton-capacity crane being used to build scaffolding around the cathedral's main tower. Once the 70 tons of steel scaffolding beams are in place, all four 40-foot pinnacles will be completely removed for reconstruction. 

The stone mason charged with refurbishing the cathedral's pinnacles said the project could last more than a decade.

About $15 million of the total fundraising goal will pay for short-term repairs; $10 million is intended to aid cathedral operations through 2012.

Though the exterior needs additional clean-up and stabilization before the cathedral reopens, the interior is completely safe and undamaged, Weinberg said. All tours and services offered prior to the earthquake will be back on schedule.

The Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal church that welcomes people of all religions to worship and take part in services.

When open, it draws a monthly average of 35,000 visitors. During its closure, the cathedral has been holding services at the Agnes Cochran Underwood Athletic Center in Washington, D.C., for a much smaller group of worshippers.

The consecration of the cathedral’s ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese, the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, on Nov. 12 will be the first of many events on the cathedral’s reopening week. 


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Washington Monument inspection underway

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--Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A construction crane being used to make repairs to the earthquake-damaged National Cathedral  lies overturned after a mishap Sept. 7.  Credit: EPA / Shawn Thew

Dramatic Washington Monument descent begins

Look up, Washington, D.C.

Architectural engineers have begun their dramatic descent from the top of the Washington Monument, crawling the face of the 555-foot-tall landmark looking for signs of earthquake damage.

Two of the engineers started out just after noon EDT, emerging from a hatch at the top of the structure,  which ranks as the world's tallest obelisk. Engineer Emma Cardini is on the east face of the structure, while colleague Dan Gach is on the south-facing side.

Dan Lemieux, the lead engineer supervising the descent, said that five climbers in all would scour the four-sided monument in an effort to determine the extent of earthquake damage suffered in the magnitude 5.8 temblor that rocked the East Coast on Aug. 23. The quake was felt as far north as Boston and beyond.

The descent was scheduled to begin Tuesday but was postponed because of inclement weather. Earlier today, the threat of thunderstorms again appeared poised to scuttle the climb, but the day turned out to be gorgeous, with a slight breeze and bright sun. The climbers' gear and rigging is sparkling against the blue sky.

The sight of people lowering themselves on the face of the Washington Monument brought out both tourists and locals.

Navy Cmdr. Dan Truckenbrod took a break from his desk at the Pentagon to put in a noontime jog and catch a glimpse of the goings-on. "I came to see the crazies. You know, take pictures, say I was here. Hopefully, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Pam O'Hare and her husband Bob, from Ackley, Iowa, were among the onlookers. They stopped in Washington  following a trip to Shenandoah National Park. While they were disappointed that the monument itself was closed, the O'Hares still have plenty to tell the folks back home.

"We probably would've waited in line to go up if it was open," Pam O'Hare said. "But to get pictures this unique to put on our screensaver at home is not something everyone gets to do -- especially not out in Iowa!"

The Washington Monument is considered a must-see for visitors to the nation's capital. On a normal day visitors can take a 70-second elevator ride to the observation deck 500 feet above the National Mall. For now, though, the monument remains closed indefinitely pending earthquake repairs, with visitors relegated to touring the monument's grounds.


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Photo: Workers rappel down and inspect the top of the Washington Monument. Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images


Washington Monument descent on hold due to weather

The hottest ticket in Washington, D.C.? That would be a front-row seat to watch engineering and climbing experts descend the Washington Monument to look for earthquake damage.

For now, though, the descent is on hold because of threatened thunderstorms. (The top of the Washington Monument, surrounding by rigging equipment, is probably one of the last places you'd want to be during a thunderstorm.)

This photo shows the scene earlier today as Dave Megerle, a member of the Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates' "Difficult Access Team," attaches ropes to the top of the Washington Monument. The setup paves the way for experts to simultaneously -- and slowly -- rappel down each side of the monument and comb it for damage when the weather permits.

The monument's elevator system was damaged in a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that was centered in Virginia and rocked much of the East Coast on Aug. 23. Several of the monument's exterior tiles also cracked. All the damage seems to be in the top 100 feet of the monument, and the exterior view is needed before authorities can put together a restoration plan. Experts gain access to the outside through a hatch at the top.

The Washington Monument, the world's tallest obelisk, is considered a must-see for visitors to the nation's capital. For now, the popular tourist attraction remains closed to the public, although the grounds are open to visitors.


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Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

Mountain climbers to rappel down Washington Monument

Photo: Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, talks about earthquake damage suffered by the Washington Monument. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press The Washington Monument will continue to be off-limits to visitors in the wake of last month's damaging earthquake, officials said Monday. But there's still plenty to see.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday, mountain climbers will simultaneously rappel down each of the monument's four sides to examine the extent of the damage suffered by the landmark. That's the only way authorities can get a detailed look at the exterior of the monument, which stands just over 555 feet tall.

“The good news is that it is structurally sound," Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said at a news conference Monday. "The original architects knew what they were doing.”

A Denali National Park ranger will lead the mountain climbers' slow-and-careful "expedition" down the sides of the monument.

The monument's elevator system was damaged in the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that rocked much of the East Coast on Aug. 23. Several of the monument's exterior tiles also cracked. All damage seems to be in the top 100 feet of the monument.

Jennifer Talken-Spaulding, a National Park Service ranger, recalled touring the damaged areas shortly after the earthquake: "When I walked up and saw daylight coming through the cracks at the top, it just broke my heart,” she said during the news conference.

Since the earthquake, rangers have been using a foam-like filler and caulk to try to minimize water seeping in through cracks in the monument's mortar that are up to a quarter-inch wide.

The Washington Monument is both the world's tallest stone monument as well as the world's tallest obelisk, and is considered a must-see for visitors to the nation's capital. On a normal day visitors can take a 70-second elevator ride to the observation deck 500 feet above the National Mall.

The only view of the observation deck that the public can see these days is in a newly released video showing the reaction of the 12 visitors and single ranger who were there when the earthquake struck.

Monday's news that the monument would remain closed to visitors was a disappointment for tourists. Many had expected the news conference to outline the extent of the damage -- and perhaps announce a reopening date for sightseers. For now, visitors are relegated to touring the monument's grounds.

There is currently no timetable for repairing or reopening the monument.

The Aug. 23 earthquake was centered just outside Mineral, Va., and was felt from the Carolinas to Boston and beyond. The quake also damaged Washington's National Cathedral, although it remains structurally sound. Several spires and decorative elements on the architecturally significant edifice were either damaged or snapped off.

For tourists still seeking a sweeping view of the Washington skyline, the National Park Service recommends the Old Post Office Tower, which has a 270-foot observation level and a century-old tower clock with the Bells of Congress.


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Photo: Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, talks about earthquake damage suffered by the Washington Monument. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

How damaged is Washington Monument? Officials to provide details

Washington Monument
A news conference Monday is expected to reveal the extent of damage the Washington Monument suffered when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rocked the East Coast in August.

The Aug. 23 earthquake was centered just outside Mineral, Va., and was felt from the Carolinas to Boston and beyond. The Washington Monument has been closed since then, although the grounds continue to be open to tourists.

Preliminary inspections found the monument to be structurally sound, but cracks were found near the top of the monument, which is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk, standing just over 555 feet.

National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the scheduled 2:30 p.m. EDT news conference in Washington would detail the extent of damage to the landmark as well as repair plans.

The earthquake also damaged the National Cathedral, although it remains structurally sound, officials said. Several spires and decorative elements on the architecturally significant edifice were either damaged or snapped off, but plans for repairs are underway.


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Photo: A cyclist stops to take a photo of the Washington Monument a day after it was closed to the public indefinitely because of earthquake damage. Credit: Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images

Tsunami alert canceled for Alaska [Updated]

Al A tsunami alert was issued early Friday for Alaska's Aleutian Islands -- and canceled minutes later -- after a sizable earthquake there at 2:46 a.m. Alaska time.

The U.S. Geological Survey had issued the tsunami alert in the wake of an earthquake (preliminary magnitude 7.1), fearing for the coastal areas from Unimak Pass to Amchitka Pass. The areas are remote, but not unpopulated. [UPDATED 2:14 p.m.: The quake was later downgraded to a 6.8 magnitude.]

Evacuations began -- and were soon halted, the Associated Press reports -- adding this quote from Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security: “In Atka, they had a little bump of a wave, but nothing of any kind of a destructive power. Just a wave."

"Just a wave" hardly seemed reason for alarm.

Thus this notice posted on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website:

"NO destructive tsunami has been recorded, and NO tsunami danger exists along the coasts of the U.S. west coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia. Local authorities can assume all clear upon receipt of this message."

Just to be clear, it adds:

"This will be the last West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center message issued for this event. To repeat, NO tsunami warning, watch or advisory is in effect for the U.S. West coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia."


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Photo: Fishing boats steam out of the Alaska port of Dutch Harbor. An underwater quake occurred about 80 miles from the town. Credit: Jacob Resneck / AFP / Getty Images

National Cathedral gets safety nets; 9/11 events will go on

National Cathedral

The National Cathedral in Washington, which suffered sizable damage in last week’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake, is being equipped with safety nets to allow commemorations for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to go on as planned.

The cathedral has been closed to the public since the quake, and services have been held elsewhere.

The black, tightly woven nets will be stretched over the upper-most level of stained-glass windows in the main sanctuary and serve as a precaution against falling mortar chips, many of which shook loose during the temblor.

The quake’s impact was more visible on the cathedral’s exterior, particularly to the building’s spires and flying buttresses.

Despite all the damage, “the engineers tell us with confidence that the building is structurally sound,” said cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg in an interview with The Times.

With safety nets in place, the cathedral will host a weekend of events marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, starting with a concert on Sept. 9, at which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will speak. President Obama will speak at a Sunday event. 

The nets allow the cathedral to open in the immediate future, but Weinberg said the repairs would be a lengthy process.

“The cost of all the repairs is going to be in the millions of dollars,” he said. “This is going to be a multiple-year effort.”


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Photo: Workers erect scaffolding and nets Thursday in the National Cathedral in Washington. Credit: Chip Somodevilla /Getty Images


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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