Less than two months after moving back into its historic building on Massachusetts Avenue following a top to bottom renovation lasting nearly two years, the Estonian Embassy in Washington suffered extensive water damage extending through several floors over the weekend.
The situation is grim, Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. Kristjan Prikk admitted speaking to ERR on Tuesday.
"Very extensive water damage occurred," he explained. "Early last Friday morning, when the first embassy employee arrived at the building, they discovered a massive amount of water on the fourth floor of the embassy, which reached the floors below from there."
As insurance companies are currently in the process of handling the issue, Prikk couldn't speculate more exactly, but noted that preliminary info points toward the sprinkler system on the fourth floor of the embassy building having gone off, adding that, to the embassy's knowledge, there had been no fire involved.
"As the pressure and volume of water involved in a fire sprinkler system is great and water in modern buildings travels along various electrical, ventilation and other shafts, unfortunately it wasn't always a trickle; it's actually a pretty large amount of water," the ambassador said.
He was likewise unable to comment yet on the total extent of either structural or financial damages to the building.
"We've got likely the best specialists in the region working here, who are doing everything they can to identify the extent of the damage and minimize the direct development and spread of moisture and resulting mold," Prikk said. "The precise scope will become clear in the next few days, in some cases weeks, if we're talking for example about some equipment which currently still works but has sustained moisture damage which may only become apparent days or weeks from now."
He said that there are rooms on each floor that will need to be completely gutted, and that some rooms will need to have their floors replaced as well.
"But there are also rooms on each floor where there is no visible moisture damage, but where the company currently working here has to assess whether the situation inside the walls is the same, or whether water or moisture has gotten in there as well that could start affecting the building's structure and developing mold," he continued.
Vital documents, artwork safe
The Estonian ambassador confirmed that documents and sensitive information of vital importance to the Estonian state and its allies were never compromised.
"That's all safe," he said. "It also seems as though we managed to do a good job protecting artwork, movable furniture and more important equipment as well."
Following nearly two years of extensive renovations, the Estonian Embassy in Washington had only just moved back into the building, located on a corner lot on a section of Massachusetts Avenue known as Embassy Row, early last month.
"The building was built in the early 20th century, but following the right decision a couple of years ago was completely rebuilt — all of the support structures, the layout inside were new," Prikk said. "We've been back in the building for a few weeks, but the building hasn't been reopened yet."
The renovated space was visible on photos shared on Twitter as recently as November 17, when the Estonian Embassy hosted a visit by the 2022 James S. Denton Fellows from the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).
It was a great pleasure to welcome @CEPA's 2022 James S. Denton Fellows visiting the Embassy— Estonian Embassy US (@Estonia_in_US) November 18, 2022
➡️Encouraging to see young Europeans highly committed to tackle regional & global security challenges like RU aggression in UA + looking for ways to advance #transatlantic cooperation pic.twitter.com/BtHitJkLcz
According to the ambassador, work at the embassy is continuing one day at a time.
"My personal wish is that we be able to put the building to use as quickly and properly as possible," he said. "We'll take it room by room, if needed, and consider what solutions are available."
In summer 2001, a three-alarm fire broke out at the Estonian Embassy caused by a shorted electrical wire in the basement-level utility room, causing $2.5 million in damage. The fire was ruled accidental.
Editor: Aili Vahtla