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Indiana man helps rebuild the National Cathedral years after 2011 earthquake

The National Cathedral's head stone mason Joe Alonso explains the parts of the church towers.  (Source: Gray DC)
The National Cathedral's head stone mason Joe Alonso explains the parts of the church towers. (Source: Gray DC)(GRAYDC)
Published: Dec. 23, 2019 at 1:37 PM EST
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Big earthquakes are rare on the east coast. But in 2011, a 5.8 earthquake in Virginia rattled Washington, D.C. and could be felt for miles.

The quake was strong enough to send large chunks of the National Cathedral tumbling. The head stone mason at the National Cathedral is tasked with fixing the national landmark.

The Hoosier is on a mission to rebuild the cathedral one stone at a time.

“That piece was just flopping back and forth,” said Alonso, looking out over the damages on the top of the Cathedral.

Standing on the rooftop, Gary, Indiana native Alonso reflects back on the day when the earth shook around him.

“Had that quake lasted 2 or 3 more seconds, we would have lost a tremendous more,” said Alonso.

“It would have been a catastrophe.”

It only took seconds to bring down pieces of history. Some parts went airborne.

“You know it had to have done a full on 360 in mid-air,” said Alonso, describing one pinnacle which toppled during the quake.

Alonso has worked at the church for more than 3 decades.

His father was a mason and Alonso joined him on jobs while growing up in Indiana.

“That ’s where my passion for masonry started,” he said.

Andy Uhl, one of the Cathedral’s stone carvers, said Alonso is the team’s rock.

“He makes good decisive decisions, and it’s good to have leadership like that,” said Uhl.

All this stone actually comes straight from Alonso’s home state. He said there are about 150 thousand tons of Indiana limestone that make up this national landmark.

“A big hunk of Indiana sitting on top of this hill,” said Alonso, patting the limestone on the roof.

“There’s so big a part of me in this building literally, blood, sweat and tears,” he said.

Alonso estimates total damages will cost upwards of 34 million dollars. The masons and carvers are only about 25 percent done with the repairs.

The church relies entirely on private donations for the millions of dollars of repairs.

Alonso and his team are planning to reconstruct another damaged section in the early spring.

Copyright 2019 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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