Steeple of historic Connecticut church collapses, no injuries reported

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — An historic Connecticut church's soaring steeple and roof collapsed on Thursday, leaving a gaping hole in the top of the building and the front reduced to a heap of rubble.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the collapse at the First Congregational Church in downtown New London, which happened around 1:30 p.m., though a search was ongoing afterward, authorities said.

The fire department found one woman at the building when it initially responded, but she was escorted out and is safe, Mayor Michael Passero said at a news briefing. Nobody else is believed to have been inside, he said.

Assuming the city confirms no lives were lost, the circumstances of the collapse were “extremely fortunate," Passero said. There was no service taking place at the time and the building fell in on itself, rather than onto the street or nearby properties, which include City Hall and dormitories for Connecticut College students.

“It could have been a much bigger disaster for us. However we did lose a cherished historic structure,” he said.

The cause of the collapse was not immediately known. Passero said there was no prior indication that there was anything wrong with the building, and the city was not aware of any work being done on the property. It wasn't immediately clear if it had been recently inspected, he said.

Two smaller steeples that remained on the building would have to be taken down immediately, Passero said. It remained to be seen whether the rest of the building would need to be demolished, he said, but it was expected to be a “total loss.”

The stone building dates to around 1850, according to state building records, though the congregation dates back to the mid-1600s, its website says.

The Engaging Heaven Church, which also worships in the space, said on Facebook that it wasn't aware of anyone inside at the time of the collapse.

Phone calls left for the congregation and Engaging Heaven were not immediately returned.