Beliefnet News

Churches seemed to bear the brunt of Tuesday’s 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast.

Significant damage was reported to Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral and St. Peter’s Catholic Church, historic St. Patrick’s Church near Baltimore, and two churches in Culpepper, Va., close to the epicenter — St. Stephen Episcopal Church and Culpepper Christian Assembly.

“The damage is severe and we have three buildings condemned,” said Culpeper County building inspector Bob Orr said. “St. Stephen’s has structural damage inside.” Also closed to the public, he said, were the Christian Assembly and an Italian restaurant.

At St. Stephen’s, Rector Michael Gray said he had not been allowed into the main sanctuary, which was built in 1821, to see the damage, but early assessments indicated it could be repaired.

“He said a structural engineer would offer his assessment,” reported Rhonda Simmons, Steven Butler, Allison B. Champion and Jeff Say for the Culpepper Star-Exponent newspaper.

Gray said it’s not the building that makes the church.

“The people are the church,” Gray said. “We are doing fine – that’s the main thing.”

In the meantime, Gray said, the church’s chimney would be removed down to the boiler.

“The top of it is pretty much fractured,” he said. “If a big wind came, it could blow it down,” Gray said, referring to the possibility of Hurricane Irene reaching the area this weekend.

St. Stephen’s will hold Sunday services in the adjoining parish hall, he said, and the Culpeper Food Closet will open today as planned.

“The town was gracious enough to turn the power back to the food closet, so we don’t lose our food,” Gray said, noting the old church experienced “pretty heavy” damage during the War Between the States — and survived that.

Pastor Andy Knighting of Culpeper Christian Assembly was in the basement of the building when it began to shake, his wife, Charlotte, said. The building is too damaged to allow services.

“We’re just waiting to see what the next step in the process is … there is major structural damage on the third floor,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, arrived in Culpeper about 10 minutes after the quake for a previously scheduled appearance at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation.

The building had been emptied of its staff and the approximate 75 people who came to hear Warner so the former governor talked from under a tree atop Mount Pony.

“I was not going to mention the fact that one of the last times I was in Culpeper there was a tornado,” he said. “If you don’t want me to come back, there’s an easier way to do this.”

Library staffer Orysia Bilan was working near old reels of film when the temblor began. She said cans of film began bouncing around like “marbles on a trampoline.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore closed St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fells Point after its steeple and bell tower were damaged, reported Matthew Hay Brown for the Baltimore Sun.

“Archbishop Edwin O’Brien is scheduled to survey the damage to the113-year-old church on Wednesday morning,” wrote Brown. “The archdiocese said it expects to determine then whether the parish hall can be used for mass until the church is reopened. If the hall is also deemed unsafe, the archdiocese said, parishioners will be encouraged to attend Mass at nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown.

“The church was founded in 1792; the current church was completed in 1898.”

At least two churches in the Washington area felt the force of the earthquake, reporting falling debris and varied damage.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill was cordoned off with police tape after chunks of concrete and stone were dislodged.

“It seems that a pedestal from the very top part, not the tower of the bell tower, but the pedestal of the church, seems to have fallen forward onto the front stairs,” said St. Peter’s priest Father William Byrne.

The National Cathedral also suffered damage — thought at first to be slight. However, repairs will run into the millions of dollars, said Sam Lloyd, the Cathedral’s dean.

“All of the sudden, everything began shaking at once,” he said. He and a team of architects and engineers spent Wednesday assessing the cathedral, They found significant structural damage, he reported.

Nothing is covered by insurance, Lloyd told reporters. The damage includes fallen carved angels on the church’s roof, cracks in flying buttresses and missing finials from the pinnacles of the central tower.

“We run a very tight budget here at the cathedral and we have had our financial challenges that we’ve worked through very well,” said Lloyd. “But there is nothing in our budget that would allow us to step up and do this.”

Joe Alonso, the cathedral’s head stone mason, said it will take years to complete the repairs, according to the Religious News Service.

“It’s going to be millions, no doubt about it. Millions,” he said. “As large as this structure is, it’s all hand made.”

Hit hard by the recession, the Episcopal cathedral in recent years had already weathered several rounds of staff layoffs and been forced to cut programming. The charge now, Lloyd said, is to go back to those who contributed to the construction of the cathedral, which began in 1907 and was completed in 1990.

“It was built by people from across the country who believe having this space for the nation in the heart of the nation’s capital is a hugely important enterprise,” he said. The cathedral, the second largest in the nation, will be closed through Saturday as engineers continue to assess the damage. Church officials say they hope it will be open for Sunday services.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond, traveling 3.7 miles beneath the earth’s surface and momentarily jarring as many as 12 million people. It was the most powerful earthquake to strike the East Coast in 67 years. There were no reports of deaths, but fire officials in Washington said there were at least some injuries.

The U.S. Park Service evacuated and closed all monuments and memorials along the National Mall. The Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol and federal agencies in and around Washington were evacuated.

Residents of the U.S. West Coast, who are used to the earth moving couldn’t help but take a jab or two.

“Really all this excitement over a 5.8 quake??? Come on East Coast, we have those for breakfast out here!!!!” wrote Dennis Miller, a lifelong California resident whose Pleasanton home sits on a fault line.