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Washington cathedral bears brunt of earthquake damage

The Washington National Cathedral has emerged as one of the biggest casualties of yesterday’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake on the US east coast, with spires, capstones and buttresses all visibly damaged.

The ornate cathedral sustained “substantial damage” in the earthquake. “Experts are tirelessly working to assess the building damage − both structurally and aesthetically,” a spokesman for the cathedral said.

Three of four pinnacles (corner spires) on the central tower have been damaged, and three finials (capstones) have fallen from them. Decorative elements on the Cathedral’s exterior also appear to be damaged. Cracks have appeared in flying buttresses at the Cathedral’s east end.

Cathedral mason foreman Joe Alonso said his biggest concerns are cracking in the vaulted ceiling and on the pinnacles, and potential damage to the cathedral’s central tower. “I’d like to get to a vantage point where I can see and try and assess what’s happened to the central tower,” he said, adding that he was unsure whether the pinnacles “will hold”.

The cathedral was constructed between 1907 and 1990, with the central tower being completed in the 1960s.

Also in Washington, Smithsonian Institution secretary and earthquake engineer G Wayne Clough said the Smithsonian Institution Building − known as the Smithsonian Castle − had suffered some damage and is undergoing structural inspection. He said the Castle was built in 1881 with brick that was not reinforced.

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