Safety nets are being installed beneath the ceiling of the Washington National Cathedral to guard against falling debris after the landmark building was damaged by the earthquake that rattled the East Coast last week.
Putting up the netting will allow the world's sixth-largest cathedral to be used for events marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11, including a concert that evening at which President Barack Obama will speak.
The cathedral's head stone mason, Joe Alonso, said Thursday that when workers entered the building after the 5.8-magnitude quake on Aug. 23, they found the floor speckled in places with small pieces of mortar that had rained down from the ceiling. The chips of mortar came from between the stones in the gothic cathedral's vaulted ceiling, which is about 100 feet high.
Engineers spent days cataloging the places where the debris fell and checking the ceiling of the Episcopal church, which was completed in 1990 after 83 years of work.
"We're back in construction mode now," Alonso said Thursday.
No mortar chips are believed to have fallen since the quake, and the building is structurally sound, Alonso said, but the netting is being stretched over the cathedral's sanctuary as a precaution. Visitors will still be able to see stained glass windows near the ceiling through the black netting. Alonso said he expected the work to be finished Friday. He described the mortar as a cushion between the cathedral's stones, not a glue, because the building would stand without mortar, he said.
Outside the cathedral, workers have also installed a fence to keep people away from the damaged structure. Three of the four spires of the cathedral's central tower were damaged during the earthquake. The temblor sent stonework crashing into the building's roof and set other stones askew. Major cracks also appeared in some of the building's flying buttresses.
The rare East Coast earthquake was centered about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Va., and was felt from Georgia to Canada. No known deaths or serious injuries resulted, but cracks also appeared in the Washington Monument. Parts of the Capitol, White House and Pentagon also were evacuated.