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Two Years After Earthquake, Repairs On National Cathedral Progressing Slowly

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Netting has been strung between the ceiling and the ground of the cathedral's nave to catch any falling pieces of mortar. Crews are starting to inspect and repair the ceiling from damage caused by the August 2011 earthquake.
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
Netting has been strung between the ceiling and the ground of the cathedral's nave to catch any falling pieces of mortar. Crews are starting to inspect and repair the ceiling from damage caused by the August 2011 earthquake.

It's been two years since a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the region, and while repairs are visibly proceeding on the Washington Monument, work and fundraising to repair damage at the National Cathedral is advancing more slowly.

Scaffolding climbs 60 feet over the National Cathedral's nave. The view from the scaffolding includes the rows of pews below and the intricate stained glass windows that stretch up to the ceiling. It's from this vantage point that workers will soon start exploring the ceiling of the 100-year-old structure for hairline cracks and begin replacing mortar that came loose during the August 2011 earthquake.

"Structurally, the ceiling is sound, none of these huge boss stones are loose," explains Joe Alonso, the cathedral's head stone mason. He leads a team of three that's in charge of the cathedral's intricate stone work. "The way the ceiling rattled we just want to get up there and make sure that any loose bits that are up there are removed and put back," he says of the work his team and contractors are about to begin.

But despite the seeming progress toward repairing the iconic cathedral, officials say that they're still many years and many dollars away from being done. Andrew Hullinger, the cathedral's senior director of finance and administration, says that fundraising is still behind where it needs to be.

"At this point, we believe that the total cost of repairs will be $26 million dollars. To date, we've raised $10 million dollars," he admits. That's money for the earthquake repairs alone—the cathedral also needs $36 million for repairs and upkeep of other structures on the grounds.

Hullinger hopes to use the second anniversary of the earthquake to raise an additional $50,000 dollars. He says that however long it takes to raise the full amount will determine just when the cathedral will return to normal.

In the meantime, programming at the cathedral will proceed as usual, including an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

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