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Thunderbolt rips library

By Thomas Olson and Tony LaRussa
Sunday, April 9, 2006

A ferocious lightning bolt that struck the clock tower of the historic Allegheny Regional branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Friday evening hurled massive chunks of granite through sections of the building’s roof.

The structure, at 5 Allegheny Square, North Side, was the first of 19 public libraries built by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

A pyramid-shaped portion of the tower’s peak weighing several hundred pounds ripped through the roof of the second-floor lecture hall, imbedding itself — point first — in the floor where speakers typically stand for presentations.

“What’s most amazing is that none of our collection was damaged,” said Barbara Mistik, the Carnegie’s executive director, who was at the library Saturday surveying the damage. “I’d say we were pretty lucky.”

The library has about 60,000 pieces in its active collection and another 100,000 pieces in its archives, she said.

The impact caused steel roof joists to punch through the lecture hall ceiling — one resting inches from a Steinway & Sons baby grand piano, which appeared to escape damage.

Twisted metal lath and sections of galvanized steel air-conditioning duct work hung from the lecture hall ceiling, and plaster dust settled throughout the room.

Right below the lecture hall in the first-floor children’s section, a roughly 3-foot by 5-foot portion of the plaster ceiling crashed to the carpeted floor, scattering debris and dust. Chunks of stone also damaged the wire-reinforced glass skylight above the library’s main room on the first floor.

Nobody was in the building when the lightning struck at about 8 p.m.

By Saturday afternoon, workers had sopped up water from broken pipes and rain that had streamed down a 3-story metal spiral staircase.

The carved granite cornices that adorned the top edges of the clock tower — each weighing a hundred pounds or more — and shards of razor-edged stonework were littered around the outside of the building, some imbedded several inches in the sodden grass.

“We’re bringing in a crane (Sunday) to get above the roof to assess the damage and begin pulling the pieces of granite and other debris out,” said Suzanne Thinnes, a spokeswoman for the library. “We really won’t know how long the library will be closed or how much repairs will cost until we determine the extent of the damage.”

Thinnes said library officials will be meeting with representatives of its insurance company to determine if any of the repairs will be covered.

Customers can return books to the library’s book drop outside the library’s main entrance or to other branches. The closest branch is at 612 Smithfield St., Downtown.

The Romanesque-style building was designated a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation in 1970. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The library was dedicated in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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