Md. still feeling quake's effects as hurricane approaches

A day after the largest East Coast earthquake in more than 60 years, Marylanders continued to deal with the fallout, as officials assessed the effects on buildings and infrastructure, transit riders saw delays and some federal workers and public school students got an extra day off.

Although the tremor lasted for just a few moments Tuesday afternoon, damage prompted a Fells Point church to relocate services. State inspectors were busy assessing roads and bridges as the region braced for the predicted weekend effects of Hurricane Irene.

"We're concerned about the potential double whammy, with the hurricane moving up the coast for the weekend. Anything knocked loose by the earthquake could be made worse by the hurricane," said Cory Kegerise of the Maryland Historical Trust, which was collecting reports of mostly minor damage to historic buildings statewide.

A few building closures were expected to continue through Thursday or longer. In Washington, the National Park Service spotted cracks in the stone at the top of the Washington Monument, forcing closure of the 555-foot-tall structure. The monument will be closed indefinitely for repair.

The Washington Monument in Baltimore, which has been closed to visitors since last year because of needed repairs, was scheduled to be inspected Thursday, said Cathy Powell, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of General Services. Municipal offices had been inspected so employees could return to work, she said.

The State Highway Administration will take several days to inspect its bridges and facilities, said spokeswoman Lora Rakowski. One of the bridges that will receive extra attention through Thursday is the 34-year-old Thomas Johnson Bridge that carries Route 4 over the Patuxent River between Calvert and St. Mary's counties. The work will require alternating lane closures between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The historical trust received more than two dozen reports of damage to historic buildings by Wednesday afternoon, predominantly in Anne Arundel County. Falling chimneys accounted for most of the damage, said Kegerise, the trust's administrator of local preservation programs. The trust also reported chimney and roof damage to Clifton Mansion in Baltimore's Lake Clifton Park.

The preservation group warned that wind and heavy rain from the hurricane could complicate repairs or cause further damage to historic structures.

In Baltimore, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien surveyed damage to St. Patrick Church in Fells Point on Wednesday morning. The northbound lane of Broadway remained closed Wednesday evening between Gough and Bank streets as a precaution against falling debris, though it might reopen Thursday.

After the earthquake, chunks of decorative stone fell from the steeple to the sidewalk. Church officials observed cracks that had formed in parts of the steeple and plinths — vertical masonry on high points of the building.

Archdiocese officials decided to cancel services there at least through September and will provide a shuttle to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown. The shuttles will pick up passengers in St. Patrick's parking lot about 15 minutes before services and bring them back afterward.

"I think everyone knows we don't want to take any chances," O'Brien said, after discussing the damage with the Rev. Robert Wojtek of St. Patrick.

O'Brien noted that St. Patrick is the archdiocese's oldest parish community. The church dates to 1898, when Irish immigrants filled its pews, but now the congregation is mainly Latino.

"I think it's got a lot more years to serve people," O'Brien said.

Two other churches reported minor damage to chimneys: St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middle River. Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said the archdiocese's engineers would check every church with a steeple.

School systems in Prince George's and Cecil counties canceled classes Wednesday so officials could complete inspections of their buildings. The Archdiocese of Baltimore planned to send teams of engineers to all of its schools to ensure safety for their first day on Monday.

Three federal buildings in Maryland were closed Wednesday pending further inspections: the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Bethesda; the Department of Health and Human Services in Laurel; and the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

MARC trains were delayed up to 55 minutes Wednesday morning on the Brunswick line and up to 20 minutes on the Camden Line but had resumed their normal schedules by the evening commute.

The delays Wednesday were the result of safety precautions Tuesday that forced crews to exceed hours of service allowed by the Federal Railroad Administration. As a result, the transit administration did not have enough standby staff to cover all trains Wednesday.

The University of Maryland's McKeldin Library was expected to remain closed until after a structural inspection, possibly Thursday. The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis also reported minor damage to buildings, including an athletic facility, where cracks led officials to restrict access to the third floor.

Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Edward Gunts and the Tribune Newspapers' Washington bureau contributed to this article.

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