Virginia Episcopal churches face uninsured quake losses
Cathedral repairs will run into the millions[Episcopal News Service] East Coast Episcopal churches great and small spent Aug. 24 assessing damage caused by the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck the day before outside of Richmond, Virginia, and finding that their insurance may not cover needed repairs.
Washington National Cathedral, sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the second-largest such church in the United States, sustained significant damage. The repairs will cost millions, in part because of the building's handcrafted stonework, the cathedral said in a press release.
"This cathedral was built by Americans all over the nation and its restoration will require the full support of the country," the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, cathedral dean, said via Twitter.
None of the costs associated with the anticipated repairs will be covered by the cathedral's insurance, according to a tweet on the cathedral's Twitter page.
The quake struck in the early afternoon near Mineral, Virginia, about 84 miles southwest of Washington D.C. It was felt from Toronto to North Carolina to Ohio. There have been at least three aftershocks greater than magnitude 2.5 since then, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Three of four pinnacles (corner spires) on the cathedral's "Gloria in Excelsis" central tower have lost their "finials" (capstones shaped like fleurs-de-lis) and there is more significant damage to two of the pinnacles, the cathedral said in the release. Similar decorative elements such as statutes on the cathedral's exterior also appear to be damaged. Cracks have appeared in the flying buttresses around the apse at the cathedral's east end, the first portion of the building to be constructed, but the buttresses supporting the central tower seem to be sound, the cathedral's release said.
The cathedral will be closed until at least Aug. 27. A prayer service planned for that day to celebrate the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial has been moved to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., the cathedral said.
Plans for the cathedral's Sunday worship services on Aug. 28 will be announced once they are finalized.
"A Call to Compassion," its plan to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, is expected to move forward as planned, the release said.
Meanwhile, some Episcopal Church congregations in the Richmond-based Diocese of Virginia reported cosmetic and structural damage. In a letter to the diocese Bishop Shannon S. Johnston urged congregations to inspect their buildings, paying special attention to foundation stones, brickwork, steeples and chimneys.
At St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Culpeper, Virginia, the quake separated the narthex (lobby) from the nave (the main body of the church) and the building has been condemned.
"Regrettably, several churches that have sustained damage have learned that their insurance does not cover earthquake damage -- and this includes churches covered by the Church Insurance Company," Johnston said in his letter. "Earthquake insurance is an additional insurance one must purchase and, given the fact that earthquakes have been such a rarity in Virginia, many churches may not have such insurance."
He urged all churches at this point to determine whether they have such coverage and, if they do not, consider adding earthquake insurance to their existing policies.
Diocesan Treasurer Michael toured congregations in the affected area on Aug. 24, the bishop said.
"The diocesan staff is exploring what resources can be made available to those churches in need," Johnston said. "It is precisely this sort of situation that reminds us that we are not a congregational church, but are bound together in dioceses -- so that we might bear each others' burdens and bring together resources we hold in common."
Joe Alonso, head stonemason at the National Cathedral, said in a video released late Aug. 23 that it was fortunate that most of the debris that fell off the building fell onto its roofs rather than onto surrounding sidewalks and roads.
He noted that the western pinnacle of the south transept "rotated counterclockwise several inches" during the quake and said he observed evidence of similar rotation on some of the cathedral's many other pinnacles. The central tower sustained most of the damage, he said.
"It's mind-boggling what occurred up there," he said in the video.
Alonso estimated that the portion of the southwest pinnacle on the tower that fell onto the tower's roof weighed 1.5 tons. The tower's northwest pinnacle is tilting, he noted.
The eastern two pinnacles were "severely rotated" by the quake, Alonso said. The northeast pinnacle is "in danger of toppling over," he observed, predicting that if it does fall, it will land on the tower's roof.
"One good thing about the roof of the central tower is that it is a massive poured-concrete roof with massive poured-concrete beams, so structurally it was able to take that hit of that massive masonry, of that 3,000-pound chunk of pinnacle striking it," he said in the video.
Removing the stones from the roof, repairing the pinnacles by raising new masonry to the top of the central tower will be a "massive undertaking" involving scaffolding and cranes, Alonso predicted.
The cathedral's central tower, the highest point in Washington D.C., was completed in the 1960s and restored in the 1990s after repeatedly sustaining lightning damage. The fallen finials were placed at the end of the restoration, according to Weinberg.
Constructed in fourteenth-century English "perpendicular" Gothic style, Washington National Cathedral was constructed between 1907 and 1990 on Mount St. Alban, in the northwest part of the city.