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MENAFN - Arab News - 22/02/2014
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(MENAFN -Arab News) THE “earthquake” was seconds away. The floodlights were on. The cameras and the sensors were ready

All eyes were on the eight-foot, two-ton section of a Washington National Cathedral pinnacle that stood like a missile in the Columbia University engineering laboratory

It was the biggest object ever tested on the lab’s shake table. (The table can hold three tons, or 6,000 pounds.) The plan was to see whether a steel reinforcing rod screwed through the middle would hold the limestone sections together

Shortly before noon, a warning buzzer sounded. A blue emergency light began flashing, and the crowd of student bystanders put on their hard hats

Lab director Adrian Brugger announced that the quake was about to begin

“And, start,” he said

The metal table on which the pinnacle was bolted began to jerk back and forth, squeaking as it did. There was no rumbling. No falling debris

No one fleeing into the streets

It lasted 30 seconds. Brugger turned from a bank of computer screens and said, “That’s it.” The room was silent. That was it? Yes, he said, that was it. Applause broke out

Last week, an earthquake similar to the 5.8-magnitude quake that struck the Washington area in August 2011 was simulated in New York City. But it was in a laboratory. There were no injuries, and the whole thing was sort of underwhelming

The simulation was a success, though. The steel rod held the pieces of the test pinnacle firmly together. There was nary a crack in the stone or the mortar

“Well, there you have it,” said Joe Alonso, the cathedral’s head stonemason, who had helped put the test together and was watching. “I’m glad what we didn’t see. We saw it on Aug. 23, 2011. That was enough for me.” “It’s not very interesting,” said George Deodatis, chairman of Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “But this is how the earthquake occurred.&rdquo

He said the engineers thought about adding some low-frequency noise to the test for effect. “But we’re not Hollywood,” he said. “We’re scientists.&rdquo

The real earthquake, on a Tuesday afternoon, rattled the 301-foot-tall Episcopal cathedral in Northwest Washington to the tips of its majestic towers. Gargoyles, crockets and huge stone finials shook loose and came crashing down

The quake knocked off the top of the southwest pinnacle on the cathedral’s central tower. The pinnacle fell on the cathedral roof, and the shaking nearly knocked over the tops of three other pinnacles, which were within seconds of falling

All loose or dislodged stone was subsequently removed from the structure, which suffered millions of dollars in damage. Full repairs are expected to take years

The stones of the old pinnacles had been held together with small bronze dowels, Alonso said. As earthquake repairs proceeded on the English Gothic-style cathedral, experts realized they needed a better system of reinforcement

The steel rod seemed to be the answer

Alonso, who has been immersed in the cathedral’s repairs since the quake, said he thought that it worked

“That rod that’s in there, the way we screwed it down, I would imagine that did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “Without that rod, if that was doweled together with those little bronze dowels . . . there’s no doubt this thing would have come apart just like they did in the quake.&rdquo

As for the simulation, Deodatis said it was difficult to replicate exactly what was experienced at the cathedral, almost 100 miles from the quake’s epicenter near Mineral, Virgini

The Columbia engineers came up with a good estimate and then bumped the intensity up a notch. “It’s very close to what happened that day,” Deodatis said

The test, which cost about 45,000, was about a year in the making, Alonso said

It was largely arranged by longtime cathedral consultant Robert Mark, a professor emeritus of architecture and civil engineering at Princeton University. Mark and Deodatis were colleagues at Princeton

Mark, who was present at the test, said an early plan had been to place a model of the entire cathedral on the shake table. But he realized that a model would not generate the data they wanted

“We decided it’s better to do it at full scale because we wanted to check how the stone and the mortar stood up,” he said

To set up the test, Alonso ordered five pre-cut limestone pieces from the same quarry in Indiana that provided stone for the construction of the cathedral. He and other cathedral stonemasons then assembled the pieces into a rough copy of the pinnacle section that fell

Last month, the disassembled pieces were trucked to Columbia, and this month, Alonso and his men reassembled them in the Columbia laboratory and fastened them together with the rod

“The intent was . . . to simulate as close as possible the finished and fully re-created pinnacle that’s going to go back up on the central tower,” said James W. Shepherd, the cathedral’s director of preservation and facilities

The test piece won’t be used in a new pinnacle, Alonso said, but the stone will be recycled

The test included two other simulated earthquakes, a lesser shake and a more severe shake. The pinnacle structure was sound throughout

After the tests, Alonso and Deodatis used magnifiers to examine the surface of the stone for cracks

“It’s in perfect condition,” Deodatis said at one point. “You’re absolutely safe.&rdquo

He added later: “I would stand next to this during an earthquake.&rdquo

“You can’t get a better guarantee than that,” Mark said.


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