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Federal Funds Sought For National Cathedral Repairs

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Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray checks out sections of the
pinnacles from National Cathedral that were damaged and later removed
after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake.
Patrick Madden
Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray checks out sections of the pinnacles from National Cathedral that were damaged and later removed after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

D.C. is asking the federal government to help pay for repairs to the National Cathedral. Mayor Vincent Gray says he's  requesting a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to attain $15 million to help restore the earthquake-ravaged building. Total repairs were estimated to cost $25 million.

The National Cathedral has long been supported by private donations, but a spokesperson with the cathedral says there is precedent for a religious institution receiving federal disaster aid, noting a damaged church in Louisiana that received millions of dollars after Hurricane Katrina.

“Probably 50 tons of stone here if not more,” says head stonemason Joe Alonso as he surveys the scene. Alonso says the pieces are all from the central tower, which suffered significant damage to three of its four pinnacles. “Just of the top of my head, I could envision it taking at least two years to repair the tower and get all the stonework back,” says Alonso. 

D.C. mayor Vincent Gray says while he understands concerns about the federal government helping support a religious institution, he says the National Cathedral is far more than that: “This is an iconic structure, it’s in it’s a place that has an enormous role in our nation, not just in the District Columbia," says Gray. "So I look at this as one of our national treasures that really transcends religion."

But there’s no guarantee the federal government will approve the request.  In fact, FEMA recently rejected a request for disaster relief from Louisa County Virginia, where scientists pinpointed the epicenter of the earthquake.

“If we do not receive FEMA funding we will go back to our roots, essentially, and go coast-to-coast and seek donations to restore this National Cathedral,” says Andrew Hullinger, who directs the cathedral’s finances.

As part of the District’s request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mayor Gray says he will also seek $7 million in disaster funds for city government buildings damaged during the quake.

The cathedral is scheduled to re-open on November 12.

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