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Posted at 04:57 PM ET, 08/24/2011

D.C. quake causes millions of dollars in damage to National Cathedral

Officials with the National Cathedral said that Tuesday’s earthquake left millions of dollars in damage to the building’s dramatic Gothic exterior, though engineers said there were no structural problems.

At a news conference Wednesday, Dean Samuel Lloyd said a 3,000-person interfaith service that was scheduled for Saturday to mark the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial would be moved to the National Shrine as engineers made final determinations about how to stabilize the massive, cracked spires that stand 300 feet above ground.

A pinnacle is precariously perched atop the Washington National Cathedral. (NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST)
With three of the four main, highest spires severely damaged and other decorative elements of the limestone cathedral cracked, head mason Joe Alonso said repairs would run into “the millions, no doubt about it.” A cathedral spokesman said details of the repair budget weren’t known, but Alonso emphasized that toppled and cracked items were “all works of art, done by hand.”

In Tuesday’s quake, three of the four spires on the main tower had cracked off and a few other angels and spires elsewhere on the cathedral appeared broken, so it wasn’t clear how many items had been harmed. However, there are nearly 700 limestone angels alone on the cathedral’s exterior.

The cathedral, which typically hosts 300 tourists a day this time of year and holds three daily worship services, is closed at least until Saturday.

Engineers and architects who have worked on the building over the years said the issue now is checking the hundreds of decorative elements on the British Gothic cathedral, which was built in phases from 1907 to 1990. There are 400 angels alone on the Central Tower, the highest of the building’s three towers.
An angel, dislodged from the southwest pinnacle of the "Gloria in Excelsis" or central tower, lies on the roof of the Washington National Cathedral following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake which rumbled through Washington on Aug. 24. (NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Earlier in the day, Alonso stood on the roof of the cathedral he’s tended for nearly 30 years and said he was reeling to see the roof littered with cracked angels, toppled spires and off-kilter pillars, 300 feet above the street.

A worker photographs rubble atop the National Cathedral following Tuesday's earthquake. (COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL)
“Its just surreal,” he said, rubbing his head.

Also surveying the damage on the roof this morning was Anthony Segreti, a longtime architect on the building. Looking at the broken spires, he said repairing things so high up would be “one heck of a logistics problem.”

The cathedral’s insurance did not include earthquakes.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  04:57 PM ET, 08/24/2011

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