- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011

Workers are installing safety netting inside the Washington National Cathedral to protect visitors from falling debris, as the earthquake-damaged landmark prepares to reopen next week.

The netting is being installed beneath the interior ceiling of the cathedral, which was damaged Aug. 23 by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in Virginia that was felt along much of the East Coast.

The Episcopal-affiliated church has since been closed to the public, but it will reopen Sept. 9 and host three days of events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The activities will culminate Sept. 11 with a concert and a speech by President Obama.

“We don’t anticipate any additional elements to fall,” cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said Thursday, adding that the netting is strictly a precautionary measure.

The earthquake damaged three of four spires atop the cathedral’s 300-foot-tall central tower and caused major cracks in the building’s exterior. Cathedral officials said it also shook loose mortar between interior bricks, causing small pieces of mortar to fall from the ceiling.

Officials contend that the building - which was built from 1907 to 1990 and is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world - is still structurally sound, but that repairs will likely cost millions of dollars. The Archdiocese of Washington announced Thursday it will donate $25,000 to help with repairs.

The cathedral was one of just a few structures in the District to sustain significant damage during the earthquake. The temblor also caused several cracks in the Washington Monument, which has since been closed to the public while engineers make repairs but is still structurally sound, according to the National Park Service.

Engineers sealed cracks in the monument’s facing last week but this week found standing water inside the structure - leading them to presume it leaked through remaining cracks. No timetable has been set for the monument’s reopening.