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National Cathedral repairs still underway 10 years after earthquake

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National Cathedral repairs still underway 10 years after earthquake
Chief stone mason Joe Alonso points out the damage and restoration atop the Washington National Cathedral on Thursday. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Nearly a decade after 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the eastern United States, restoration efforts at the damaged Washington National Cathedral have totaled about $15 million and are expected to take another 10 years.

The temblor struck at about 2 p.m. Aug. 23, 2011, with an epicenter in Mineral, Va. Although it wasn't the strongest earthquake to hit the region, the U.S. Geological Survey said it spread throughout the eastern United States and was felt by millions -- likely more than any earthquake in North American history.

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"One of the fascinating things we discovered was heightened ground shaking in Washington, D.C., resulting in damage to buildings in the city at distances that would not ordinarily be expected," said Thomas Pratt, who is a USGS research geophysicist and expert in eastern earthquakes.

Workers and residents poured out of buildings in the nation's capital, prompting traffic jams and disruption to mobile service. Luckily, no deaths or significant injuries were reported in the incident.

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But the National Cathedral didn't fair so well.

Spires topping the church's central tower lost their capstones, interior upper floors and the building's flying buttresses were cracked, and falling decorative elements damaged the roof. Stone pieces weighing more than two tons fell off the roof, plummeting 300 feet.

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Joe Alonso, the head stone mason at the cathedral, said he heard the church bells ringing on their own as they swayed in the shaking.

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"When the earthquake happened, I thought, 'Wow, we have got a task ahead of us,'" he told The Washington Post. "Everything here is handmade. You look at the incredible detail on the stone carvings here and it's all hand done ... It's just the nature of the work."

The building, however, suffered no serious structural failures.

Church officials said the earthquake caused some $34 million in damage and after 10 years, about $15 million in repairs have been made. Repairs are still underway, though, and could take another decade to complete as the church works to secure donations to pay for the restoration.

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