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Northwest Baptists shaken in aftermath of earthquake

SEATTLE (BP)–Southern Baptists throughout the Pacific-Northwest were reportedly safe, but shaken following a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that jolted Seattle and was felt as far south as Salt Lake City.

Baptist workers at the Northwest Baptist Convention in Vancouver, Wash., about 100 miles south of the quake’s epicenter, have had difficulty contacting churches in the quake zone. Phone service to Tacoma and Seattle was down at press time due to the quake.

James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, told Baptist Press that the nation should begin praying for those impacted by the quake.

“Our prayers go out to all of the city of Seattle and to those who may have been injured in this earthquake,” Merritt said. “Hopefully, the injuries will be minimal. I do pray that God will use this earthquake to shake Seattle in a spiritual way, that they might turn to the Lord and look to him for grace and salvation through this tragic period.”

Southern Baptist churches in Seattle have reported minor damage and no injuries. Joyce Olson, a receptionist at First Baptist Church, White Center, told Baptist Press the church sustained cracks in the ceiling and floor.

“I’ve got to tell you that I’m just as nervous as I can possibly be,” Olson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m here at the church all alone and it’s just frightening.”

Olson said the quake hit with such force that it knocked her down. “At first, I thought something was wrong with me,” she said. “The floor literally rolled up.”

The church is located about 12 miles from downtown Seattle.

Dale Cluck, principal of the Northgate Baptist Church Academy, reported all 30 students were evacuated from their building in a Seattle suburb and no one was injured.

“We were just about to go to chapel when it hit,” Cluck told Baptist Press. “The building was shaking pretty good. Fortunately, we have a good evacuation plan and the students were able to exit the building quickly.”

Cluck said concerned parents have been calling all morning. “I was in the 1964 Alaska earthquake and this one was pretty tough,” he said. “We have a lot of people who are really upset over this.”

Ed Ernsting, editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, told Baptist Press he was answering e-mail messages inside his office at the state convention office in Vancouver, Wash., when the quake hit.

“It felt like a low rumble at first,” he said. “Then I looked out the window and saw trees moving in the parking lot and realized it was an earthquake.

“There was certainly an immediate reaction from our staff,” Ernsting added. “We all gathered in the hallway, realizing we had just endured a quake.”

None of the 30 people in the Northwest Baptist Convention building were injured and no structural damage was reported.

Baptist Student Ministries director Rena Register was at the Seattle airport when the quake hit. “She’s OK,” said a spokesperson for the Columbia Basin Baptist Association. “However, there was quite a bit of damage to the airport, and people are going nuts.”

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  • Todd Starnes