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Irene reveals more cracks in Washington Monument

The National Park Service says engineers sealed cracks in the Washington Monument from last week's earthquake ahead of Hurricane Irene. But now they have found water inside that may indicate more leaks.
Image: A fallen wooden state park fences is seen on the ground near the Washington Monument
A fallen wooden state park fence is seen on the ground near the Washington Monument on Sunday.Benjamin Myers / Reuters
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

The National Park Service says engineers sealed cracks in the Washington Monument from last week's earthquake ahead of Hurricane Irene. But now they have found water inside that may indicate more leaks.

Carol Johnson, a Park Service spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said standing water was found in the monument's stairwell and observation area after the hurricane, indicating leaks.

The Park Service is awaiting another report from contract engineers who are experts in earthquake damage.

"The hurricane pointed out cracks and leaks that we didn't know about," said Johnson. "Either you couldn't see them or we just didn't have time to look at the whole thing."

"The monument always gets a little bit of water, but this was more water than usual, so we assume that it is from the earthquake."

Federal News Radio reports engineers have installed a fence around the base of the monument because of a few thin layers of falling debris. Still, Johnson says the monument is structurally sound and "not going anywhere."

This handout image from the National Park Service shows inside the pyramidion of Washington Monument on August 24, 2011 in Washington, DC, a day after a large earthquake struck the region. The surprise earthquake that rattled the US east coast opened a small crack near the top of the iconic Washington Monument, prompting officials to indefinitely close the building, one of the city's major tourist draws. AFP PHOTO / National Park Service == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / MANDATORY CREDIT \"AFP PHOTO / National Park Service\" / NO MARKETING / NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS / DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS == (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)- / AFP

Engineers discovered an initial 4-inch crack after a helicopter inspection last week, and a follow-up search uncovered three more cracks in the structure.

With Hurricane Irene approaching the region, engineers dispatched a crew to the monument on Friday to install material in the cracks to keep water from the storm entering the structure, according to NBC Washington.

Johnson said that a majority of the cracks are in the mortar between the monument's stones, which is designed to take the wear-and-tear and spare the stone itself.

Johnson added that a few stones have been cracked.

The NPS and engineers are going back to compare current damage to past records for the monument.

They will issue a report sometime next week, said Johnson.

"That will give us a better notion of what has to be done to repair it and how much it will cost," she said. "They said it's possible it could be opened up while they do some repair work, but as for timeline, I have no idea."

Johnson said this kind of damage — beyond normal maintenance — has never happened in the history of the currently weather-weary monument.

Thirteen national parks remain closed from the hurricane, said Kathy Kupper, another spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

The Washington Monument remains closed.