Quake damage about $2 billion

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

SEATTLE - A day after the region's strongest earthquake in a half-century, most Western Washington residents headed for work, school and their daily business as usual, grateful for only a close call.

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

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, traveling in the state with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh, said a preliminary damage estimate had reached $2 billion.

Though the cost was growing, she said the region was fortunate. "I'm so glad there were minimal injuries," she said.

The earthquake, centered about 35 miles southwest of Seattle, was felt Wednesday 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 Thursday at the same location of the initial quake. A magnitude-3.4 quake occurred at 1:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time 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.

"We're just really, really lucky," Gov. Gary Locke said after surveying the region by helicopter.

Locke declared a state of emergency. He said today that precise damage figures would not be available until buildings were examined by structural engineer. The Capitol campus in Olympia remained closed Thursday, idling 10,000 workers.

"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."

Locke, his wife and two children were among residents forced out of their homes by the earthquake. Cracks appeared in the brick walls of the governor's mansion and books and pictures flew off the walls, he 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.

"Washington was prepared and they've done a good job handling this," Allbaugh said. "Federal assets are ready, based on Gov. Locke's request."

Seattle's workday began this morning as usual, with most businesses and schools open. Some roads remained closed as crews checked for damage, complicating the morning commute.

Air traffic controllers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport worked out of a trailer today because of damage to the control tower. That limited landings to no more than 25 an hour, compared to 40 normally, said spokesman Bob Parker. Departures were normal, but affected by the availability of planes: Fewer arriving meant there were fewer to leave.

The airport was closed several hours Wednesday.


Boeing, the region's largest private employer, reopened most of its offices and factories, though its facilities at Boeing Field south of Seattle were closed due to damage to the airport.

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 Wednesday's 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, declared it "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, said 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 10:54 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. U.S. Highway 101 buckled in several places.

However, the state Department of Transportation said there were no reports of major damage to bridges, as San Francisco faced after the deadly 7.1-magnitude World Series quake in 1989. In Washington state, a $65 million retrofitting program that began in 1990 improved more than 300 bridges.

"We would look at the retrofit program as having paid for itself and shown a success," said Ed Henley, a bridge management engineer. Though there were no collapses, some highways and bridges sustained lesser damage and a few were closed as a precaution until they could be checked over.

The earthquake struck the day President Bush proposed to kill a federal program designed to help communities protect themselves against the effects of natural disasters.

Bush's budget recommends saving $25 million by ending the Project Impact disaster preparedness program, saying it "has not proven effective." Seattle was one of the nation's first Project Impact communities.

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.

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