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With exceptions, engineers find quake didn’t do much damage

The earthquake shook M&T Bank Stadium just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, and by that night Rafael Sabelli was in the air, on a red eye flight from San Francisco to Baltimore.

With a thick stack of schematics under his arm, he circled the concourse Wednesday morning, ducking into bathrooms and luxury suites and out into the seating bowl. He stopped often to peer up at the steel skeleton and concrete shell of the stadium.

“If there were structural damage you would see it in some of the larger connections,” said Sabelli, the director of seismic design for Walter P Moore, a national engineering firm.

All across the region Wednesday, engineers inspected courthouses, monuments, roads, tunnels, bridges, vacant houses and massive structures like the home of the Baltimore Ravens, checking for the telltale cracked concrete and warped metal of earthquake damage.

The engineers from Walter P Moore didn’t find any.

“This is purely precautionary. We’re being prudent,” said Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which oversees Baltimore’s state-owned professional sports complex. “Our first concern is public safety, of course, and our secondary concern is the value of the real estate.”

Even as engineers Sabelli and Mike Drerup toured the stadium, workers scrambled to prepare the venue for Thursday’s nationally televised preseason game with the Washington Redskins. Technicians laid wiring to and from ESPN trucks while others repaired scoreboards and a single painter spray-painted the team’s logo at midfield and name in the end zones.

“We can say with reasonable confidence the expansion joints were not even tested, let alone loaded [stressed] in a significant way,” Sabelli said.

Those joints, covered in rubber, run across the concourse and allow the steel and concrete to expand and contract as the temperature rises and falls, some of the motion expected in the 71,000-seat stadium.

Sabelli said structures like M&T are designed to have some give horizontally, although on the East Coast the force doing the pushing from side to side is usually wind, not an earthquake.

Football fans, too, can also make the stadium move. RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., was famous for its bouncing seating decks.

“She moves,” said Jeff Provenzano, who has been MSA’s director of football operations since M&T Bank Stadium opened in 1998. “If you come here [Thursday] night and stand on the ramp, she moves. You feel it.”

Other structures were not as fortunate as the stadium.

St. Patrick Catholic Church in Fells Point was closed indefinitely after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The “badly damaged” steeple will be “selectively deconstructed and stabilized, a process that is expected to take several weeks,” according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The church was completed in 1898.

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said inspectors were checking city buildings and vacant structures Wednesday for signs of damage. That work is expected to continue Thursday, when inspectors will examine the Washington Monument on Charles Street.

Transportation officials reported no damage had been found on the state’s roadways and transit networks Wednesday.

MARC train service was slowed on the Brunswick line in the morning, but the Camden and Penn lines — Penn experienced heavy delays and cancellations Tuesday — were moving smoothly, said Terry Owens, a Maryland Transit Administration spokesman.

A Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman said inspections of bridges, tunnels and the InterCounty Connector were expected to wrap up Wednesday.

Lane closures on the Thomas Jefferson Bridge slowed traffic between Calvert and St. Mary’s counties as engineers in a crane inspected the structure. More lane closures are scheduled Thursday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to the State Highway Administration.

Engineers and others in fields associated with disaster response expect to be busy for much longer than that.

Alex Brown, an insurance attorney with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, said he has fielded many calls from businesses and homeowners asking if their insurance policies cover earthquake damage.

The answer for most of them: No.

“The standard forms contain an earthquake exclusion, actually an earth movement exclusion,” Brown said. “I haven’t been a very popular person today.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook today talking about those issues.”

Brown said some businesses have asked him to audit their insurance coverage, but he doesn’t expect home and businesses owners to rush to their brokers to add earthquake coverage, unless the region is rocked by another quake in the next year or so.

“While that may make sense in California, given that we have an earthquake here every 30 or 40 years, most people think it’s not worth the money,” Brown said.

Mike Drerup, an engineer in Walter P Moore’s Washington, D.C., office, said the firm has been fielding “quite a few calls” seeking inspections.

Drerup just so happened to be meeting with stadium authority officials Tuesday during the quake. He and Sabelli, who traveled to Japan and Chile after major earthquakes there, will next inspect Oriole Park at Camden Yards and then the warehouse next door. The Orioles host the New York Yankees on Friday night.

But by then the region’s focus will likely be on Hurricane Irene storming up the coast.