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Storm topples N.H. church spire

Cars crushed, but no one is injured

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Yellow caution tape blocked off Pleasant Street in Market Square yesterday, as onlookers snapped pictures of the historic North Church, which lost its new spire Friday night during a sudden thunderstorm.

Officials do not know whether it was wind, lightning, or both that caused the spire to fall and sent scaffolding plummeting more than 100 feet to the street below. No one was hurt from the collapse, but the scaffolding crushed some cars.

Gloria Wennberg was closing a walking tour and visitor information booth in the lively square Friday evening as the thunderstorms quickly approached the area.

It was not until she awoke yesterday morning that she learned what had happened to Portsmouth's landmark church.

``It was definitely a shock," Wennberg said yesterday from the tour booth across the street from the Congregational church, which dates to the 1850s.

The lower portion of the church steeple, which is being renovated, was not damaged. The old spire was removed two weeks ago, but the storm knocked down what had recently replaced it, according to Jameson French , chairman of the Market Square Steeple Fund Advisory Committee.

While construction crews worked on the roof yesterday, Antonio Peppers, who was sitting at a cafe on Congress Street, said he thought it was ironic that men had put up the scaffold, but nature brought it down.

``It was God that brought the storm through here," said Peppers, 46, of Portsmouth. ``God bless that nobody got hurt."

When giving directions to tourists in the area, Ford Ivey , 26, of Portsmouth, said he uses the church as a reference point because the steeple is visible from many parts of the city.

Winslow Bettinson , 86, of Braintree, said he was married in North Church in 1948 after meeting his wife during choir rehearsal there.

He was visiting Market Square yesterday, as he does each month. ``Mention the North Church to anyone who's been in Portsmouth and they remember the North Church," Bettinson said.

Richard Hopley , the city's chief building inspector, said there was minimal damage to the church's roof and no damage to the sanctuary.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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