* Three spires break off cathedral tower
* Chunks of plaster fall in Capitol rotunda
* Washington Monument closed for inspection
(adds Capitol damage, monument details)
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Three spires on the Washington National Cathedral, site of state funerals for several U.S. presidents, broke and fell and the U.S. Capitol suffered some minor damage in Tuesday’s earthquake.
Richard Weinberg, director of communications at the Episcopal cathedral, said the 30-story-high central tower had suffered “significant” damage with three of the fleurs-de-lys shaped corner spires breaking off and falling to the ground.
“A fourth is leaning,” said Weinberg. “There was other minor structural damage to buttresses and smaller pinnacles.”
No one was injured but the cathedral -- host to state funerals, and memorial services for many U.S. presidents and the site of several presidential inaugural prayer services -- was closed to the public so the building could be inspected.
The National Cathedral, which weighs 150,000 tons and took 83 years to complete, is the highest point in Washington. It is a solid masonry structure made of limestone blocks placed one atop another.
The flying buttresses are also solid stone and they help hold up the walls. The roof is held up by a steel beam structure but does not help hold up the rest of the cathedral.
In the U.S. Capitol, which was evacuated shortly after the earthquake hit, some minor damage could be seen in the rotunda, under the iconic Capitol dome. Bits of paint and plaster, which fell from high on the walls, were scattered on the floor.
Some chunks of plaster fell fell from over a doorway in Statuary Hall. A crack could also be seen in the archway leading out of the hall.
But staff members were allowed to re-enter the Capitol to retrieve personal items after it was inspected by structural engineers. Inspections were continuing to determine the condition of the buildings in the Capitol complex.
Several chunks fell out of the roof of Union Station, said Virginia Newton, a tour bus employee who works at the 104-year-old train station.
A Reuters reporter saw three sections of the station’s ornate vaulted ceiling that appeared to have fallen down, measuring about 2 feet (0.6 meters) in diameter.
The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and the Old Post Office Tower were all temporarily closed as a precaution after the earthquake, the National Park Service said in a statement.
It said the Washington Monument, an obelisk that towers 555 feet high, appears to be structurally sound but because of its “structural complexities,” it will remain closed until further notice.
Reporting by Deborah Charles, Tabassum Zakaria, Andy Sullivan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman