Falling Debris Temporarily Closes Rotunda

While giving a tour, Meehan finds the Rotunda closed after debris fell from the area in the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Rotunda was closed to traffic around 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, after a small piece of debris related to work on the Capitol Dome restoration project fell to the ground.  

Sources on the scene said the falling debris narrowly missed a person standing in the Rotunda. Capitol Police alerted the Capitol Hill community to the closure and quickly cleared the space. No one was injured in the incident, according to department spokesman Shennell Antrobus, and the area reopened shortly after 3 p.m.  

Inside the empty Rotunda, workers in Architect of the Capitol hard hats and bright construction vests moved along the scaffolding ringing the room. They appeared to be adjusting the 6,100-pound doughnut of safety netting that was erected in mid-April to protect members, visitors and staff from falling debris. A handful of contractors convened in the center of the room, pointing up at the activity and assessing the scene.  

Capitol Police officers guarding the entrances to the Rotunda diverted tour groups, staff and members, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., from the space.  

About 30 minutes into the closure, a hard hat tumbled to the ground, startling some bystanders.  

Architect of the Capitol spokesman Justin Kieffer released a statement at 2:30 p.m., informing the public of the reason for the closure.  

"The closure is out of an abundance of caution to allow inspections to the protective canopy in the Rotunda after a small piece of protective padding between the scaffold and Rotunda walls dislodged," Kieffer said.  

He released another statement after the Rotunda reopened.  

"The Architect of the Capitol directed the Dome Restoration contractor to more securely fasten the padding," he said. "They also performed a thorough inspection of the scaffolding and canopy, which were found to be secure."