- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

SEATTLE A powerful earthquake rocked the Northwest yesterday, shattering windows, showering bricks onto sidewalks and sending terrified crowds running into the streets of Seattle and Portland, Ore.

One person died of a heart attack after the 6.8-magnitude earthquake, local officials told Reuters news agency. About 200 people were treated at hospitals in Seattle and Olympia, at least three of them in serious condition.

The strongest quake to hit Washington state in 52 years temporarily shut down the Seattle airport, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people, cracked the dome atop the state Capitol in Olympia and briefly trapped about 30 people atop a swaying Space Needle in Seattle.

"It was a very long, very rough quake," said Betty Emanual, who was trapped in her law firm's 39th-floor office in downtown Seattle.

"Everyone was panicked," said Paulette DeRooy, who scrambled onto a fire escape in a Seattle office building.

The quake hit at 10:54 a.m. and was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle, according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

Experts said its depth in a fault about 33 miles underground spared the Northwest catastrophic damage, which was relatively light in the highly developed region of more than 3 million residents. In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent to remodel schools, buildings and highways to protect against earthquakes.

In contrast, the magnitude-6.7 Northridge quake in Los Angeles in 1994 struck just 11 miles underground. It caused an estimated $40 billion in damage and killed 72 persons.

The Northwest quake was felt in Vancouver and other parts of British Columbia and in southern Oregon, 300 miles away. Buildings in downtown Portland, 140 miles from the epicenter, swayed for nearly a half-minute, and crowds gathered on street corners to talk about the quake.

Officials evacuated the city's Multnomah County Courthouse, which has not had a major retrofitting for earthquakes.

"I thought, 'If this building goes, we're doomed.' I didn't know what to do. Do I hide under my desk or what?" said Dee Stewart, 46, a judicial assistant who works on the fifth floor.

A 66-year-old woman from Burien, a Seattle suburb near the airport, died of a heart attack after the quake, marking the first confirmed fatality after the strong temblor, local officials told Reuters. The British news agency said no other details were immediately available.

More than 150 people were treated for injuries, most of them minor, in the Seattle area, said King County Emergency Operations Center spokesman Al Dams. Of those, 26 were treated at Harborview Medical Center, where three were in serious condition. Authorities said two had been struck by falling debris.

Two Olympia hospitals treated a total of 49 persons, all with minor injuries, except for a few who suffered broken bones.

President Bush, on a two-day trip to sell his budget, said he had asked the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Allbaugh, to travel to Seattle to offer help.

"Our prayers are with those who were injured and their families and with the many thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted," Mr. Bush said.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who said books and pictures were knocked off the walls at the governor's mansion, declared a state of emergency, freeing state resources and clearing the way for federal aid. Similar declarations were made by Seattle leaders.

After surveying the quake damage by helicopter, Mr. Locke estimated it at more than $1 billion in western Washington alone.

Screams erupted at a Seattle 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 people were knocked down by others trying to get out. Overhead lights fell to the floor.

Hotel workers let people back in after determining that no major damage had taken place.

There was damage to other buildings, mostly minor cracks and broken glass. Bricks fell from the top of Starbucks headquarters onto cars parked below and piled up on sidewalks in the popular Pioneer Square neighborhood.

Mayor Paul Schell said city crews were examining buildings for safety. He said preparations and seismic remodeling had paid off.

"I think the city has been very mindful of earthquake risks," Mr. Schell said. "We have no catastrophic damage."

Schools throughout the region halted classes, but many served as shelters until children could be reunited with parents. Many businesses sent workers home, and Boeing, the region's major private employer, closed its Seattle-area factories until today.

A man charged with three counts of child rape escaped from Pierce County Courthouse in Tacoma yesterday, using the earthquake-caused chaos as cover, local television reported.

Robert Kleest, 44, was not handcuffed, allowing him to remove his prison-issue shirt and bolt out a courthouse door as officials scrambled to shepherd a dozen criminal suspects to safety, according to the report.

The Space Needle a landmark dating from the 1962 World's Fair that was built to sway during an earthquake or strong winds was closed for 2 and 1/2 hours. None of those stranded in the observation deck and restaurant on top was injured.

U.S. Highway 101 buckled in places northwest of Olympia, and another road nearby was closed by a mudslide. Engineering crews were checking the Seattle area's many bridges for damage, and some were closed as a precaution.

Amtrak suspended train service between Portland and Seattle until tracks could be inspected, a spokesman said. Two trains with more than 220 people aboard were halted between Seattle and Tacoma, and buses were sent to pick up stranded passengers.

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was closed for more than three hours, stranding thousands of people. The Federal Aviation Administration at one point halted all flights in and out of the Northwest's biggest city, and crews were building a temporary control tower because the main building was damaged too severely to use.

The air-traffic center for Washington and Oregon, near Auburn, Wash., was operating on backup power. Puget Sound Energy said 200,000 customers in western Washington lost service, but power was expected to be restored by nightfall.

In Olympia, about 10 miles from the epicenter, legislators, state workers and visiting schoolchildren streamed out of the damaged Capitol.

"The chandelier started going, and the floor started shaking," state Sen. Bob Morton said. "Someone yelled, 'Get under the table,' and so we did."

Cracked plaster, gilt and paintings fell from the walls. There was fear the dome would collapse, and people linked hands as they walked down the marble stairs of the building.

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

The panic was similar in Salem, Ore., where the House and the Senate were in session.

"The building swayed, and I yelled, 'Earthquake,' and jumped under a doorway," said Jon Coney of Gov. John Kitzhaber's office.

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, and one with a magnitude of 7 can cause widespread, heavy damage.

A 5.0 quake struck the Puget Sound area in 1995. A 6.5 earthquake hit in 1965, injuring at least 31 persons. In 1949, a 7.1 quake near Olympia killed eight persons.

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