American Reporter Staff
February 28, 2001
SEATTLE, Wash., Feb. 29, 2001 -- From the Space Needle to Salt Lake City, the Pacific Northwest and beyond was shaken just before 11 a.m. (PST) Wednesday morning by a 6.8 earthquake that did some damage - especially to the region's aging brick buildings --and left two dozen people injured, three of them critically.
The earthquake, centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle and 11 miles from Olympia, the state capital, shut down sprawling Sea-Tac airport and left tourists stranded in the city's famed landmark of the 1968 World'sFair, the Space Needle. All were safely evacuated.
According to the Seattle Times, two of the critically injured were a man, 83, and his wife, 82, in Seattle.
At the city's vast downtown convention center, Micros= oft chairman Bill Gates, the wealthiest person in the world, was about to take the stage at a technology conference when the center began to shake violently. Television footage showed people pushing and shoving in a mad scramble to escape the building as heavy klieg lights dropped from the ceiling over the stage area. No one was injured in the brief melee.
Washington Gov. Gary Locke declared a state of emergency, and officials rushed to inspect schools and city bridges, highways and other facilities, often being pleasantly surprised by the absence of damage to older structures. Many brick buildings suffered substantial damage, however. There were no reports of either looting or panic in the city's diverse neighborhoods.
Scientists at the University of Washington, who pinpointed the epicenter for the U.S. Geophysical Service, were monitoring the situation in anticipation of aftershocks, but at last report, there were none above 4.0 thus far. The original shock seemed to last a long time, beginningwith sharp jolts and then changing into a vast swaying motion. One womanestimated its duration at 10 minutes.
The quake took place close to the 7.1 Puget Sound temblor that struck the region in 1949. That quake killed eight people and caused landslides in the Olympia-Tacoma area and more than $25 million in damage. That quake is still revcalled on a U.S.G.S. Website, where scientists say of the 1949 temblor:
"At Olympia, almost all large buildings were damaged to some extent, including eight structures on the Capitol grounds. Many chimneys and two large smokestacks fell. Public utilities sustained serious damage -- water and gas mains were broken, and electric and telegraph services were interrupted," a U.S.G.S. earthquake database says of the 1949 Puget Sound Quake.
"At Seattle, houses on filled ground were demolished, many old brick buildings were damaged, and chimneys toppled. One wooden water tank and the top of a radio tower collapsed." Yet only one small aftershock occurred in the six months after the 1949 quake, the agency says.
A 1965 earthquake prompted much of the region to adopt new building standards that may have protected the city today.
The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens was also the result of seismic activity that is endemic to nations bordering on the so-called "Rim of Fire" that follows the arc of the Pacific from Mexico north to California, Oregon and Washington, Alaska, west to the Aleutian island chain and across the Bering Sea to Russia, China and Japan.
Ironically, a 7.1 earthquake that struck California last year also did almost no structural damage, partly because it was centered in the lightly populated deserts surrounding Palm Springs. But the 6.4 Northridge Earthquake in 1994 flattened freeways and bridges, destroyed buildings and killed 54 people, causing insurance losses of at least $8 billion.
Some of those cases have not yet been resolved because major insurers including State Farm, Allstate and 20th Century Insurance were permitted to donate a total of $12 million as a penalty for non-payment into a controversial state fund that produced television commercials featuring the politically ambitious state insurance ommissioner, Charles (Chuck) Quackenbush at a time when he was seeking re-election. When exposed, the commissioner resigned.
Now, many of the cases that quake victims say were not fairly or promptly paid are in the courts under an extended deadline for resolution.