The Washington Monument will be closed indefinitely to the public after engineers found cracks in the stones at the top of the structure after Tuesday's earthquake.
The monument suffered minor damage, said U.S. Park Police spokesman David Schlosser, the Washington Examiner reported. He said a police helicopter was being used to fly National Park Service crews to assess the monument and the quake might have knocked mortar or small stones loose.
Half an hour after the earthquake shook a huge area from North Carolina into Canada early Tuesday afternoon, a Capitol Hill Police officer was reportedly saying the Washington Monument seemed to be tilting because of the vibrations.
The initial Fox News report was picked up by media outlets as well as Twitter, followed up by seismologist John Rundle, who asserted the possibility for the Washington Monument to tilt, suggesting an examination of the obelisk's structure.
But the National Park Service debunked reports that the monument was leaning.
The Washington Monument grounds are being reopened except for the plaza and the monument itself. The NPS will continue to inspect the interior before any decisions are made about reopening it to the public.
For now, though, the Washington Monument, because of its structural complexities, will remain closed until further notice, the NPS Web site said.
The National Park Service temporarily closed the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and the Old Post Office Tower as a precaution following the earthquake, and those monuments could reopen to the public as early as Wednesday pending a safety clearance.
The United States Geological Survey has confirmed that a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia at 1:51 pm EDT. It is the strongest quake to hit the Virginia area since 1897.
The earthquake originated in Mineral, Va., an area between Richmond and Charlottesville, but its impact was felt all along the East Coast. Property damage was reported in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md., and multiple major buildings in D.C. and New York were evacuated.
Buildings in downtown Washington, D.C. were rattled, causing parts of the Pentagon, White House and to evacuate. The nation's capital saw mild damage to some of its buildings, including the National Cathedral.
CNN reported the church experienced damage to its central pole, and a National Cathedral spokesman confirmed to The New York Times that at least three pinnacles on the central tower had broken off.
Many federal employees were evacuated after tremors rippled through the nation's capitol. Tullio Sawyers, a management analyst for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, described the reaction in his office building as half panicky, half calm.
The earthquake is the largest to ever hit the D.C. area, bettering a previous high of 3.6 in that area. Washington experienced major problems with cellphone communications as well.