Strong quake causes widespread damage in Northwest
Governor declares emergency in Western Washington

Wednesday, February 28, 2001


A rolling 6.8 earthquake hit a large area of the Pacific Northwest Wednesday morning, damaging buildings, causing scattered power outages and rattling nerves over a wide area. Dozens of mostly minor injuries were reported. 

Gov. Gary Locke within hours declared a state of emergency in Western Washington. Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and King County Executive Ron Sims also declared states of emergency.

President Bush sent a representative to Washington state and said his administration "stands ready to help in any way we can."

The state was rocked by two other major quakes in the past century. In 1949, a quake centered near Olympia registered 7.1 and killed eight people. In 1965, a quake measuring 6.5 hit the Seattle-Tacoma area, killing seven.

Paul Riek checks to see if his car starts after parts of the top half of a nearby building fell on it, during an earthquake in downtown Seattle, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2001. Riek said he had just parked his car there moments before to do some shopping. 

Sea-Tac Airport was ordered closed Wednesday while the terminals were inspected. Airport officials said a window broke in the control tower and there was damage in the north satellite. Boeing Field also was closed.

In addition, major freeways in the Seattle area were clogged as people left work early. 

A number of buildings were badly damaged in Seattle's historic Pioneer Square area, where rioting occurred just the night before during Mardi Gras celebrations.

Firefighters searched the badly damaged SODO building near Safeco Field to see if anyone was trapped inside, but everyone apparently got out safely. The building houses Starbucks' headquarters.

A good-sized chunk of the top of the building, the brick façade, fell off, and Starbucks workers said damage inside appeared significant.

"It was like the building was hit with a battering ram," said Tom Caterson, 30, who works in the marketing department on the building’s seventh floor. "People were screaming, hiding under their desks. Things were falling off walls, flying off desks, and filing cabinets were falling over.

"Some people were hurt," Caterson said. "They were running down the emergency stairs holding gauze pads over their heads."

Harborview Medical Center, the region's trama hospital, reported at least 19 patients with quake-related injuries, including four people in serious condition. The hospital itself sustained some damage, including broken pipes.

Various schools across the state closed for the day (see a list), but no major school damage was reported. In the 48,000-student Seattle district, classes resumed but officials told parents they could pick up their children if they desired.

The Fenix Cafe in Seattle's Pioneer Square district sits with a broken brick wall and damage below Wednesday in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest was rocked by a powerful earthquake Wednesday, sending people fleeing into the streets of Seattle and Portland, Ore., damaging buildings and roads, and closing Seattle's two airports. 

Boeing, the region's major private employer, closed all of its Seattle area factories until Thursday. Spokesman Tom Ryan said there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

Seattle's Space Needle was closed for about 2 1/2 hours, stranding about 30 people at the observation deck and restaurant on top. The city also ordered all Wednesday night events at the Seattle Center canceled, including Key Arena's Disney on Ice.

Some downtown Seattle buildings were evacuated, including City Hall, and officials ordered the County Courthouse closed. There were reports of light fixtures falling in some offices, plants and furniture tipping over in homes and bricks crumbling on older buildings. 

Seattle City Light reported 12,800 customers without power and said nine feeder lines were out in south Seattle.

Many people in the Seattle area reported feeling a rolling, rocking motion. Farther south in the Olympia area, some people said they felt strong jolts. ( Join a discussion: where were you when the quake hit?)

Several mudslides were reported throughout the region, including one that blocked part of the Cedar River and was causing flooding. U.S. Highway 101 buckled in places northwest of Olympia, and a mudslide blocked state Route 3 northeast of Shelton. There also were many reports of road and bridge damage throughout the region.

In the Seattle area, the Magnolia, First Avenue South and 16th Avenue South bridges were closed for inspection. Also closed for inspection were the Emerson Street viaduct by Fishermen's Terminal, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the I-5 Holgate overpass and the Fourth Avenue South onramp to Interstate 90.

In Olympia, all state offices were ordered closed so they could be inspected for damage. The dome of the Washington Capitol had a visible crack, and Locke said there was some extensive damage to the building and its columns.

The Washington State Ferries briefly closed all docks to inspect for damage and decided to shut down part of Coleman dock, the busiest, because of buckling in the pavement. 

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer said the quake, which hit at 10:54 a.m., was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle. That's near where the 1949 quake was centered. Officials said there was no danger of a tsunami, a seismic ocean wave.

The quake also shook the Portland and Victoria and Vancouver, B.C., areas and was felt as far away as Salt Lake City. Officials in Golden, Colo., gave several different magnitudes as preliminary data were studied, then about three hours later pegged the quake at 6.8. 

The University of Washington Seismology Lab said "strongly felt" aftershocks were not expected because the quake was so deep. 

While the quake caught the region’s two-legged residents by surprise, the furry brethren sounded warnings seconds before it hit. 

At the Woodland Park Zoo, Chai, the elephant who recently gave birth, was just about to have a blood sample drawn. She bolted upward, startling her handlers, spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said, then the quake hit. 

During the rumbling the elephants trumpeted and Chai’s nearly 4-month-old baby took shelter under her mother’s belly, giving a frightened roar. The giant glass windows in the elephant barn rattled and shook. 

The gorillas screamed seconds before the earth began to shake and ran for shelter at the back of their exhibit. Orangutans climbed as high as they could into their exhibits trees.

None of the zoo animals or visitors was injured and buildings were not damaged, Allianic said. 

At Mount St. Helens there were reports of "substantial rock fall activity in the crater," said Ed Klimasauskas, U.S. Geological Survey representative in Vancouver. The rock fall was sending dust plumes into the air.

The Nisqually Indian Reservation is near the quake's epicenter, and tribal member Tammy McGee said there were power outages at the reservation but that no one there was hurt. 

An earthquake on the San Juan fault caused bottles to fall off the selves at the QFC grocery store on Broadway Ave. East at Harrison Street in Seattle. Employees Keoni Cadavona, left, and Steve Cantin, help clean up the mess. 

"People are pretty shooken up and scared," she said. "I was in the library and I thought it was something at Fort Lewis."

She went outdoors to ride out the quake. It was "making big old waves."

Dan Nelson was getting coffee at the Starbucks at Denny and Aurora avenues in Seattle when the shaking started.

"At first it felt like a truck was going by. But then it goes on a while, and you say, 'Hey, that’s an earthquake,'" he said.

Don Lowe, manager of the Stadium Market at Denny and Aurora, quickly busied himself picking up quarts of oil, pre-packaged snacks and other merchandise that fell off the shelves.

Lowe said he was in Seattle for another strong quake in the mid-1960s.

"That one was a lot more terrifying," he said. This time, "It seemed to last a long time, for an earthquake."

Japanese tourist Yoskihiko Kanezaki lives in the Tokyo suburb of Yokohama, where he goes through three or four earthquakes per year. He was on his way to the Space Needle and Pike Place Market when Wednesday's quake hit. 

"It’s a little strong for an earthquake, but we have seen stronger ones" in Japan, he said.