National Cathedral rebuilds a year after quake

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - It was one year ago Thursday that an earthquake centered in Virginia rocked the East Coast. It set the Washington Monument swaying and sent tourists scrambling. There were no serious injuries but cracks were discovered in the stonework and the monument remains closed to visitors.

The quake also heavily damaged the National Cathedral. We got a look at the repair mission there.

Joe Alonso has been a stone mason at the Washington National Cathedral for 27 years. On Thursday, he took us up 300 feet to view the damage done to the cathedral's 150,000 tons of stone in last year's earthquake.

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Construction started back in 1907, and it was Alonso who placed the final stone when it was completed in 1990.

"We laid that stone 83 years to the day -- to the moment, I believe -- that they laid the first stone," Alonso recalled.

Today, he's in charge of the cathedral's masons and carvers. For 21 years, the job was all normal restoration and upkeep.

"That all changed on August 23, 2011, at 1:53 p.m.," said Alonso. On realizing that he would be in charge of having to put the mess back together, he added: "Having worked on the construction of it, and just immediately knowing 'Wow.'"

Alonso showed us a corner of the building that barely held up and is now tightly bond in steel cords. "That was all attached to here ... it broke free up there and then just started creeping over with the vibrations," he said. "But the quake ended, and again another couple of seconds, I hate to think what would've happened."

Two-and-a half tons of stone came down from one of the eight pinnacles. Luckily, it fell just 30 feet onto the roof of the tower.

"Had it gone the other way," said Alonso, "it would've fallen almost 200 feet through the roof of the transept here, and I hate to think what might've happened."

The other pinnacles also suffered damage too.

On Thursday, the quake's one-year anniversary was marked with a service and ringing of the cathedral's bells. And it's seems fitting that Alonso placed the first stone officially beginning the repair stage, which could take $20 million and 10 years.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.