- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A 350-foot crane toppled at the National Cathedral on Wednesday morning, crushing several cars and damaging two buildings on the campus, officials said.

No one was seriously hurt in the accident, but the crane operator was taken to a hospital, cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said.

The 500-ton crane was being used to help repair damage to the cathedral caused by last month’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake.

“The crane had just dropped off a load of scaffolding material on the roof and was bringing the boom down,” Mr. Weinberg said, when it fell about 11 a.m. along South Road, a two-way street that runs along the southern side of the cathedral.

Officials could not immediately say what caused the accident, and an investigation was under way Wednesday.

The work was being performed despite gusting winds, lightning and at-times heavy rain in the area. D.C. fire department battalion Chief John Donnelly could not say whether weather conditions were a factor.

“I have no idea, but, like an airline crash, we’ll always look at it,” he said.

The crane missed the cathedral but clipped the Herb Cottage, which houses the cathedral’s gift shop, and the Church House, which is the headquarters for the Washington Diocese.

Chief Donnelly said the Herb Cottage received only a “glancing blow” but that it was enough to cause significant damage, mostly because of rain streaming through the gaps in the roof. Mr. Weinberg said four cars owned by contractors were crushed by the crane.

The crane is owned and operated by Upper Marlboro-based Crane Service Co., a cathedral spokesman said. Contacted by phone, the company declined to comment on the incident other than it was cooperating with the investigation.

The Rev. Simon Bautista, canon for Latino ministries at the diocese, was in the Church House when the crane fell and said it “sounded like big thunder. Then the office started shaking.”

“When things like that happen and don’t hurt as much as it could, there’s something divine out there that prevented that from happening.”

As police ushered passers-by away from the campus, emergency personnel and investigators walked the perimeter of the fallen crane, which stretched almost the length of the cathedral. The tractor-trailer bed the crane was operating on was on its back, its wheels in the air.

The cathedral, known for its towering spires that have become a part of the Washington skyline, has been closed for repairs since the earthquake.

A series of events are scheduled to be held at the cathedral this weekend to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. President Obama is scheduled to speak at an event Sunday, and officials said there were no immediate plans to relocate the events.

Fire officials said more cranes would likely be required to remove the crane.

“It’s going to be a process getting it out of here,” Chief Donnelly said.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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