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No serious injuries after roof of historic Connecticut church collapses

Roof of historic Connecticut church partially collapses
Roof of historic Connecticut church partially collapses 01:48

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- No one was seriously hurt after a portion of a historic church's roof collapsed Thursday afternoon in New London, Connecticut, officials said.

Surveillance video captured the moment the roof and one of the steeples of the First Congregational Church on Union Street caved in.

"I was talking to my wife, and then all of a sudden I hear this boom sound ... I just looked to my left and I saw the church as a whole, and then I just saw the whole thing just come down, collapsing," witness Lester Harris said.

The front mid-section of the roof came down, heavy bricks littering the front yard of the church.

"We've suffered a very serious setback here in downtown New London with the loss of one of the oldest, and certainly one of the most gorgeous, religious structures in the city," New London Mayor Michael Passero said.

No serious injures after roof of historic Connecticut church collapses
The roof of the historic First Congregational Church collapsed on Jan. 25, 2023, in New London, Connecticut.  City of New London, Connecticut/Facebook

The First Congregational and Engaging Heaven churches shared the building, which was built in 1850.

In a news briefing, the mayor confirmed that only one person was inside at the time, and she was escorted out safely by firefighters.

"Fortunately, at this time, we do not believe there has been any loss of life associated with this incident," Passero said.

The mayor said crews are waiting for word from engineers that the rubble is safe and "the two remaining steeples are not going to fall" before sending in search dogs, which is expected to happen overnight.

Passero also said there was "no indication by the congregation or the city that there was anything wrong with this building."

Investigators will work to determine what caused the collapse. There were no building permits issued or work currently being done on the structure, the mayor said. 

"We have not had time to determine if there was any recent inspections of the building structurally," Passero disclosed.

Passero said no surrounding structures were affected by the collapse. An adjacent dorm building which houses Connecticut College students has been evacuated as a precaution, and the students relocated to a hotel.

No serious injures after roof of historic Connecticut church collapses
Jan. 25, 2023.  City of New London, Connecticut/Facebook

In a statement, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said he was "in communication with State Police and emergency management officials regarding the church collapse." Lamont said he "deployed state emergency services personnel and equipment to assist in response efforts."

"You can count the luck involved in this a million ways. The building was empty. There was no services. The building fell in upon itself. It did not fall, for instance, onto State Street, onto the dormitory to the west or onto City Hall to the east," Passero said. "Obviously, though ... we're expecting that this building is a total loss."

The city and the parish vow to rebuild.

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