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10 major monuments damaged by weather and natural disasters


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, January 26, 2014, 7:52 PM -

When we reported last week that a Magnitude 6.2 earthquake had struck New Zealand, it garnered a certain amount of attention on our website.

A good chunk of that attention focussed on, of all things, a toppled statue.

Specifically, a hanging likeness of an eagle from the Hobbit films, which toppled to the ground in one of the country's main airports.

As harrowing as that was, at least that sculpture wasn't a timeless national monument - unlike these ten national symbols that were damaged by the elements over the centuries.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro

“…and if I’m wrong, may God strike me down!” is NOT a thing you want to say when you’re standing next to Cristo Redentor, the great statue of Christ the Redeemer that towers imposingly above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most famous city.

Why? Well, the 30-metre tall statue, being as it is probably the highest point in the city, is in a prime location for lightning strikes.

Earlier this month, a bolt chipped the right thumb, and a December strike damaged the hand also.

It’s such a problem that the statue had to undergo a costly restoration last decade after a bolt damaged the head, and the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro keeps a supply of stone handy for regular weather-related repairs.

Given the statue is hit, on average, six times a year, it’s prime eye candy for shutterbugs with neat cameras, a Flickr account and an awful lot of patience.

Happily for them, the best shots, of course, come when they’re well, WELL away from Cristo Redentor when it assumes its unintended role as a chiseled lightning rod.

Basilica Menore del Santo Nino, Philippines

Aside from wreaking major damage and claiming more than 200 lives, the earthquake that struck the central Philippines in October 2013 also caused the partial collapse of the Basilica Menore del Santo Nino.

The video above shows the bell tower just crumbling beneath the assault of the 7.2-Magnitude quake.

It could have been much worse. 50 people were inside when the shaking began, before quickly being ushered out by security. A passer-by on a motorcycle fell to the ground and was pulled to safety moments before a large slab of debris crushed his bike, according to this source.

At last report, Mass is currently held in the nearby pilgrim centre, due to concerns over the integrity of the mostly-intact remainder of the structure.

Image: Honeplus/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Honeplus/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, Filipinos are not unused to this national treasure suffering damage. 

Founded in the 1500s by an early Spanish expedition, it is one of the oldest Christian churches in Asia, but the current structure dates from the 1700s.

That’s because the original wooden church burned down – twice. A rebuilding effort in the 1600s was abandoned due to faulty construction materials, before authorities doubled-down a hundred years later to build the stone Basilica today.

On the one hand, that’s lousy luck for such a major part of Philippines history. On the other, Filipinos have had plenty of practice rebuilding it, so it likely won’t stay crumbled for long.

Statue of Liberty, New York City

“Superstorm” Sandy’s impact on New York City must have seemed especially targeted, given how the Statue of Liberty was in the path of some of the storm’s worst effects.

As it happens, the almost 130-year-old copper statue’s iron reinforcement held up fine under the storm’s assault in late October 2012. The statue’s home of Liberty Island, not so much. The storm surge of more than 4 m swamped three quarters of the island, along with almost all of nearby Ellis Island, such that when the storm finally subsided, the islands’ infrastructure was just wrecked.

Piers, water infrastructure, drainage systems, electrical wires, radio communications, almost all of it was gone – just a day after the statue had reopened after a year-long refit beginning in October 2011.

The damage sparked an eight-month, round-the-clock restoration project. Something like 53,000 paving stones were replaced, along with all the infrastructure, an effort whose cost came to around $77 million after overruns.

It reopened on July 4 last year. Hopefully the gods will be kind enough to let this major tourist landmark stay open for a bit longer this time.

NEXT PAGE: Ruined cathedral sparks bitter dispute

Christ Church Cathedral, New Zealand

The Magnitude 6.3 tremblor that rocked the New Zealand city of Christchurch was the worst the country had seen in almost a century.

Aside from the death toll of 185 people, the catastrophic damage wreaked on the region included the historic Christ Church Cathedral, whose bell tower toppled while the rest of the structure suffered major damage.

Image: New Zealand Defence Force

Image: New Zealand Defence Force

The shaking has long-since subsided, but the fate of the structure has raised up a massive dispute in the city between the local Anglican diocese, which wants to demolish and rebuild, and another group that wants the structure repaired.

The cathedral was such a symbol of the city that the fight over its fate has ranged all the way to the New Zealand Supreme Court, after lower court rulings halted the demolition.

Last we heard, the two sides were still trying to find a solution.

In the meantime, services have continued in a temporary cathedral nearby – Built, amazingly, using 98 giant cardboard tubes, among other materials.

Apparently, it was built to last more than 10 years. Given the protracted fight over the congregation’s final home, they might need an extension.

Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.

The eastern U.S. isn’t really known for being a massive hotspot for seismic activity, but when the plates do shift, and the tremors make it to that part of North America, people tend to remember.

The Magnitude 5.8 quake that rattled Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland in August 2011 even left the U.S. capital district something to remember it by: Cracks and other structural damages in the Washington Monument.

IMAGE: United States Air Force

IMAGE: United States Air Force

It’s not exactly easy to miss. At around 170 m in height, it’s the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world, and as sturdy as it is, the damage, mostly concentrated near the peak, was substantial.

Pieces of it broke off and fell, at least one stone shifted out almost an inch from the stone below it, and cracks in the façade were wide enough to allow sunlight to stream in to the hollow interior.

It’s safe to say the giant obelisk is unlike any other building in Washington – the scaffolding alone that would be required to support the $15-million repairs took 20 months to design and build.

Image: Ingfbruno/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Ingfbruno/Wikimedia Commons

It is, of course, closed to the public until around 2014, so the only people who will have any fun at the site will be the engineers and surveyors who checked the damage by rappelling down from the top.

Canada's Vimy Memorial, France

For Canada’s entry on this list, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in northern France, the enemy has been not a sudden shock like an earthquake or hurricane, but the slow, day-to-day ravages of weather and climate.

Unveiled in 1936, the enormous monument to more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers whose final resting places were then unknown, it was meant to last centuries, an enduring commemoration of Canada’s sacrifice in the First World War.

Unfortunately, a design flaw meant cracks had appeared in the façade, and water had begun to seep in, hastening erosion. 

As well, many of the names on the memorial had faded due to weathering from the wind and rain.

Image: Labattblueboy/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Labattblueboy/Wikimedia Commons

In 2001, a massive restoration program began, lasting until 2007, when the monument was rededicated by Queen Elizabeth on the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Even almost a century after the battle that was a crucial step in forging Canada’s national identity, the workmen engaged in the restoration could not escape the towering history of the memorial – in 2005, the remains of two German soldiers were unearthed

NEXT PAGE: An earthquake interrupts the World Series

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

“I’ll tell you what, we’re having an earthquake….” The announcer seems to be saying just before the 1989 World Series broadcast below was cut short by static.

Arguably the first earthquake to make its debut on live television, the Magnitude-6.9 tremor rocked the San Francisco Bay area, resulting in 62 deaths.

Most of them were on the Cypress Freeway in Oakland, whose collapse caused 42 deaths in total

Image: United States Geological Survey

Image: United States Geological Survey

The San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge was mostly intact, but a small section did collapse, resulting in the death of one motorist.

The damage was catastrophic, but the eyes of area residents couldn’t help but wander a few dozen kilometres away from the quake’s centre, to a certain familiar landmark.

The Golden Gate Bridge, as it happens, wasn’t actually harmed by the quake. But a report by the United States Geological Survey found a 62 per cent probability that a 6.7 Magnitude or greater quake will hit the Bay Area by 2031, and that an M8.0 tremor could so significant damage the famous span.

Authorities have laid out hundreds of millions of dollars for a retrofit of the bridge and its approaches, designed to make it stronger, but flexible enough to “roll with the punch” in the event of another major quake, right down to the rivets, which are now twice as strong as the originals.

The last phase is expected to be complete over the next six years.

The Forbidden City, China

Aside from the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in China’s capital of Beijing is probably the country’s most famous, and photographed, national monument.

Once the seat of China’s emperors, the huge palace complex housed the monarch, his family, his harem and his government. And by “huge,” we mean 72 hectares in area, consisting of almost a thousand buildings from opulent palaces to guard posts filled with soldiers grumbling about those living in the opulent palaces.

It took around a million labourers 14 years to put the whole thing together, having to invent new construction techniques just to get the building materials there from the far corners of the empire. With labour rights back then not being exactly stellar, untold numbers of workers died.

The emperor who ordered it built didn’t take long to add to the body count. After overthrowing his nephew in 1402, he initiated purges against his enemies, even mass murdering many of his concubines.

Maybe he sensed the gods weren’t super happy with all of this, because when the Forbidden City was completed, he had tons of good luck charms and magical statues installed.

They, uh, didn’t work. One year after the Forbidden City’s exquisitely-ornate gates opened, lightning struck the complex, and the resulting conflagration consumed hundreds of buildings, including three palaces. An unknown number of people died in the flames.

The emperor was spooked. So were his successors – they didn’t dare rebuild the burned palaces until two decades after his death.

Colossus of Rhodes and Pharos of Alexandria

You might have heard of these – two of the famous seven wonders of the Ancient World. Marvels of engineering, their builders’ respective visions were still no match for the forces of the Earth.

We’ll start with the Colossus of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Despite what you see in the pic above, no one knows for sure what it looked like. But when it was built after a 12-year effort, it was likely the tallest statue of its time, at 33 m.

And it only stood for 56 years, before being knocked over by a quake in 226 BC. The fallen pieces were sold for scrap centuries later, and it’s said most people had trouble wrapping their arms around even the thumb.

The Great Lighthouse of Alexandra had better luck.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This was a magnificent feat of engineering. Built in 323 B.C., it stood as much as 140 m tall, and the sunlight or torchlight reflected from its giant mirrors could be seen more than 50 km away.

And when the quakes did come – and they did, numerous times – the tower was often diminished, but kept on shining until a final quake in the 1300s rendered finally unusable.

They just don’t build them like that any more.

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