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Strong earthquake jolts Seattle, Pacific Northwest

SEATTLE (BP)–A strong earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest on Feb. 28, sending hundreds of people fleeing into the streets of Seattle and causing widespread damage and at least 12 injuries.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit at 10:55 a.m., according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. It was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle and felt across the region, as far away as Salt Lake City, 700 miles away, and into Canada.

“Everyone was panicked,” said Paulette DeRooy, who was in an elevator descending from the 15th floor of a Seattle building when the earthquake struck. She and several others scrambled out and onto a fire escape.

Screams erupted at a nearby hotel, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates was addressing an education and technology conference. He was whisked away as his audience bolted for the exits. Some audience members were knocked down by others trying to get out and overhead lights fell to the floor.

There was no immediate word on damage to Southern Baptist churches in the area; however, Gary Floyd, disaster relief coordinator for the Northwest Baptist Convention, said his office was on standby.

“We’ve heard there was a considerable amount of damage near the epicenter of the quake and we have several churches in that area,” Floyd said. “We’re going to have to wait and see when they need us.”

KING Television reported at least five buildings in the industrial area south of Seattle had collapsed, including the Starbucks headquarters. Structural damage was also reported at a community college east of the city.

The Seattle airport was closed and the tower and other offices were evacuated, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman William Shumann said.

The FAA ordered a national ground stop for Seattle, which means no flights to the Northwest’s largest city were being allowed to take off anywhere in the country. The center handling air traffic in Washington and Oregon, near Auburn, Wash., was operating on backup power.

Utility officials estimated that 17,000 customers in the Seattle area were without power.

In Olympia, about 10 miles from the epicenter, legislators, government workers and visiting schoolchildren flooded out of the Capitol and other buildings. The state Senate was in session.

“The chandelier started going and the floor started shaking. Someone yelled get under the table and so we did,” Sen. Bob Morton told the Associated Press. “The sudden violence let us know that this was a bad one.”

Cracked plaster, gilt and even paintings fell from the walls, but Morton said he saw no sign of major structural damage.

Officials were particularly afraid the Capitol dome would collapse and people linked hands as they walked down the marble stairs under the heavy dome.

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

Seattle’s popular Pioneer Square neighborhood, site of recent Mardi Gras riots, was damaged. Bricks from buildings were piled up on sidewalks. Structural damage also was reported at Bellevue Community College, which was shut down for the day.

“I thought a car had hit my building,” said Sam Song, who owns a restaurant in Everett, 30 miles north of Seattle. “Then the ground started moving around.”

In downtown Portland, Ore., office buildings swayed for 20 to 30 seconds. The Multnomah County Courthouse was evacuated and employees were gathered in a park across the street while officials inspected for damage. Michelle Noonan of suburban Lake Oswego told the Associated Press the quake was strong enough to move things around in her house.

“Everything was shaking,” Noonan said. “It knocked over a wood pile outside the house. Books fell off the shelf.”

Earthquake magnitudes are measures of earthquake size calculated from ground motion recorded on seismographs. With each scale, 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.

A 5.0 quake that struck the Puget Sound area on Jan. 28, 1995, was described as the strongest to hit that area in 30 years. Since then, a 6.5 earthquake struck April 29, 1965, injuring at least 31 people. In 1949, a 7.1 quake near Olympia killed eight people.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes