The inspection began Monday at 1 p.m., when two members of the “difficult access team” worked their way down the 234-foot northwest tower.
The climbers are looking for stones that are loose, cracked or unstable as a result of the 5.8-magnitude quake that shook the Washington area in August and rattled many of the gothic church’s decorative elements from their foundations.
The cathedral suffered an additional blow when a crane set up to repair earthquake damage was toppled onto the cathedral by high winds and rain from Hurricane Irene.
According to inspection manager Dan Lemieux, the engineers’ biggest concern is not the main structure of the church, which remained intact following the quake. Engineers are more worried about damage to the “tall slender pieces” near the top, the intricate details adorning the English Gothic cathedral’s upper tiers.
“The plan is, we figure, probably two days per tower,” Eric Sohn, one of the rappellers, said Monday.
Depending on weather conditions, the team expects to complete work on the west towers this week.
The engineering team inspecting the cathedral is the same group that rappelled down the Washington Monument looking for earthquake damage last month.
“The Washington Monument is such a huge, historic structure, but it’s relatively stark while you’re up there on the building. There’s not a whole lot to look at,” said Eric Sohn, one of the rappellers.
But the cathedral, “with all the ornamentation that we’re going to be crawling around and touching and feeling, it’s more entertaining for us.”
Church officials plan to reopen the cathedral Nov. 12.