News Articles

Northwest Baptists see 6.8 quake as preparedness & prayer wakeup call

SEATTLE (BP)–When the ground started shaking in the Pacific Northwest at 10:55 a.m. on Feb. 28, Jim Parish sprang into action.

Within minutes of the magnitude-6.8 earthquake, Parish, the director of the Puget Sound Baptist Association’s disaster relief team, had started mobilizing his Baptist troops for action.

The American Red Cross had called Parish and asked the association of Southern Baptist churches to be ready to activate their mobile feeding unit. Fortunately, Parish said, their assistance wasn’t needed.

“We had everyone on standby just in case,” Parish told Baptist Press March 1. “But we didn’t have many reports of damage, praise the Lord. Most of the structure damage was facades falling from older buildings.”

Parish said the Baptist building was not seriously damaged. “We just rode it out,” he said. “It was shaking up and down and sideways.”

The real lesson to be learned from the Seattle earthquake, Parish said, was disaster preparedness. The Puget Sound Baptist Association has about 50 volunteers who man a mobile feeding unit that can prepare up to 5,000 meals a day. Parish said he hopes the earthquake will spur other Northwest Baptists to volunteer time for disaster relief projects.

“We have a multi-associational unit,” he said. “But even in the chaos, we had our crew together pretty quick. I thought it would be hard because of communications, but we were chomping at the bit to go wherever they [the Red Cross] wanted us.”

Parish said the earthquake should be a wakeup call to Northwest Baptists.

“We’re just getting started with our disaster units,” he said. “We hope to build from this and add additional units. Since this is a missionary area, though, we don’t have the volume of people to draw from.”

As a result of the quake, Parish and other association leaders are hosting a training event. “This is a good ministry,” he said. “And I think we can do more than just provide food to people.

“There is good that is going to come out of this,” he said, referring to building a larger disaster response team.

“We just need encouragement and prayers for our team to be as active and involved as the units in the southern U.S.,” he said. “This will be the start of us getting more involved in disaster relief.”

A day after the region’s strongest earthquake in a half-century, meanwhile, most western Washington residents headed for work, school and their daily business as usual, grateful at their close call.

Still, the cost of Feb. 28’s 6.8-magnitude quake continued to climb as crews checked roads, bridges and buildings for damage.

“We’re just really, really lucky,” Gov. Gary Locke told KIRO television after surveying the region by helicopter.

Locke declared a state of emergency. He said that precise damage figures would not be available until buildings were examined by structural engineers, but it would easily top $1 billion.

“We believe the damage could go into the billions of dollars when you calculate not only property damage and the cost of repair but also the economic impact of lost wages, people who aren’t working, businesses not in operation,” Locke said on NBC’s “Today” show.

Though the cost was growing, he said the region was fortunate, noting, “I’m so glad there were minimal injuries.”

The earthquake, centered about 35 miles southwest of Seattle, was felt Feb. 28 as far away as southern Oregon and Canada.

The state emergency management division tallied 272 injuries directly linked to the quake, but all but a few were minor and none was considered critical.

Two minor aftershocks were recorded early March 1 at the same location of the initial quake. A magnitude-3.4 quake occurred at 1:10 a.m. PST and a magnitude-2.7 was recorded at 6:23 a.m., said University of Washington seismologist Bob Norris. Neither was widely felt and no additional damage was reported.

Because the depth of the quake was 33 miles underground, the earth’s crust absorbed much of the shock, scientists said.

But officials said the millions of dollars of investments the state and cities put into stabilizing buildings and bridges apparently paid off. While brick and shattered glass littered the streets, there was no widespread structural damage.

Most buildings constructed in Seattle since the mid-1970s were built to a uniform code designed to withstand strong earthquakes.

The Space Needle, where more than two dozen people rode out the quake from 600 feet above the city, was built to handle a 9.1-magnitude quake.

Twenty minutes after the shaking stopped, the elevators and structure, a landmark dating from the 1962 World’s Fair, were declared safe.

“It was like a rolling ship in the ocean,” said Daryl Stevens, who was on the observation deck. The tower’s facilities director, Rick Harris, told the Associated Press it was “the best ride in town.”

“The code worked, but it wasn’t tested to the full extent,” said Bill Steele, a seismology lab coordinator at the University of Washington.

Vikram Prakash, an associate professor at the university’s architecture department, told KIRO television the devastation from January’s 7.9-magnitude quake in India was partly due to contractors skimping on materials. Nearly 20,000 people died in that earthquake and entire cities were leveled.

Building codes here require structures to be able to withstand certain amounts of movement, Prakash said. If they hadn’t been followed, he said, “I’m sure we would have seen a lot more [damage].”

The earthquake, the largest in the Northwest in 52 years, hit at 10:55 a.m., 35 miles southwest of Seattle and 33 miles underground, according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

In Seattle and in Portland, Ore., 140 miles from the epicenter, the shaking sent people diving under desks and running into streets. Showers of bricks crushed cars, and three people in the Seattle area were seriously injured when they were struck by falling debris.

A woman in her 60s died of a heart attack at about the time of the quake. But the medical examiner’s office said it couldn’t attribute her death to the earthquake with certainty.

“The ground felt like it was Jell-O, cars were swaying, trucks were swaying,” said Tim Jacobson, who works at Seattle Air Cargo.

At the state capitol in Olympia, 11 miles from the epicenter, people screamed as the lights went out and plaster fell from the ceiling. Cracks appeared in the supports of the massive stone dome.

“If that rascal had tumbled down, it would have been all over,” Sen. Bob Morton said.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the region temporarily lost power. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was closed for several hours, and U.S. Highway 101 buckled in several places.

Earthquake magnitudes are calculated according to ground motion recorded on seismographs. An increase in one full number — from 6.5 to 7.5, for example — means the quake’s magnitude is 10 times as great.

A quake with a magnitude of 6 can cause severe damage, while one with a magnitude of 7 can cause widespread, heavy damage. But damage can be far less in areas with good building codes.

A 5.9 quake struck near Washington’s Pacific coast in 1999. A 6.5 earthquake hit in 1965, injuring at least 31 people. In 1949, a 7.1 quake near Olympia killed eight people.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes