Cables and pipes are used to stabilize the damage from an earthquake that hit the National Cathedral 10 years ago in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UPDATED 12:34 PM PT – Monday, August 23, 2021
Nearly a decade after an earthquake rattled the eastern United States, restoration efforts for the Washington National Cathedral have been estimated to take another 10 years. On August 23, 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck 87 miles southwest of Washington and was felt as far as Georgia and Montreal.
In an interview last week, the cathedral’s head stonemason, Joe Alonso, said the greatest amount of damage was limited to three of the four pinnacles that covered the main tower.
“The gothic structure with all these fine elements that you see here, all these spires and pinnacles. So that energy kept going,” he explained. “It just popped like the cracking of a whip and that’s why you see the damage is most extreme up high, especially at the very top of the central tower, which is three hundred feet up in the air.”
Despite the landmarks significant damage however, Alonso stressed the destruction would have been much more worse if the shaking lasted any longer. In the decade since the earthquake, crews have spent nearly $15 million in repairs working from the inside out. Another $17 million would be needed to complete the job.
“We’re raising the money. It was $34 million dollars in damage what we estimated,” Alonso stated. “We’re 10 years into the earthquake now and we’re about halfway done with the repairs.”
In addition, the guiding principles with the preservation and restoration work for the landmark have been to save as much original material as possible.
“Very meticulous, time consuming work. It’s just the nature of this work. Everything is handmade, hand done,” Alonso explained. “So it’s just very laborious and time-consuming, but that is how the Cathedral was built.”
The cathedral is currently closed due to lockdown orders, but is planning to reopen to worshippers and visitors alike in the near future.