WASHINGTON (The Blaze/AP) — A 500-ton crane doing repair work collapsed Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral amid thunderstorms and driving rain, damaging at least one nearby building and several vehicles but sparing the church.
The collapse came just four days before a scheduled speech by President Barack Obama inside the cathedral to observe the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The speech is the planned highlight of a three-day series of events scheduled to start Friday at the cathedral.
No decision had been made as of Wednesday afternoon about whether the commemoration, which also includes a memorial concert and interfaith vigil, would go on as planned, said Richard Weinberg, a spokesman for the cathedral.
The crane was working to repair damage to the cathedral caused by the Aug. 23 East Coast earthquake when it flipped backward around 11 a.m. Wednesday and tipped over into the parking lot. The crane damaged at least three cars and cathedral buildings. Fire officials said a crane operator was taken to a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening.
Weinberg said the crane mishap damaged Herb Cottage, which houses the cathedral's gift shop. The crane also fell near Church House, which houses members of the diocese, and poses a risk to the building. All 20 people inside the buildings when the crane collapsed were not hurt, Weinberg said.
The crane, which Weinberg said was around 350 feet, was brought to the cathedral to fix earthquake damage. The quake damaged the cathedral's limestone exterior towers and some interior areas. The cathedral has been closed to visitors.
"If it had gone any other direction it would have hit another building, which would have been bad," fire Battalion Chief John Donnelly said.
Engineers were investigating what caused the crane to tip over, and representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on the scene. Fire officials cautioned that removing the crane from the cathedral grounds would be a cumbersome task.
The cathedral is one of the nation's most recognizable places of worship, holding state funerals for several U.S. presidents and a memorial service for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, among many other events.
Sheryl Wilcox, an event manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said she was in Church House when she was startled by a puzzling noise.
"I heard what it sounds like now — thunder — or I thought something had fallen out of the construction truck," Wilcox said.
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