Disaster response organizations begin to asses quake damages

BY PJ HELLER | SEATTLE, WA | March 1, 2001

The strongest earthquake to hit Washington state in more than 50 years, may have caused billions of dollars in damages to roads and buildings in the area. Dozens of people were reported injured, and at least one death has been reported.

"I don't mind saying my heart was firmly lodged in my throat," said one Seattle-area resident. "The utter sense that I had no control over the

situation was pretty danged frightening. I've been in several tornadoes and a hurricane, but those you can generally get away from. Earthquakes. . . well, you just can't."

Joyce Olson, a receptionist at First Baptist Church in White Center, 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. I've got to tell you that I'm just as nervous as I can possibly be," she added. "I've never seen anything like this.

Rick Augsburger, director of the Emergency Response Program of Church World Service (CWS) said Wednesday evening CWS is trying to

determine appropriate response. A conference call to discuss the disaster is scheduled for later this morning. The Week of Compassion

(Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Disaster Response and the United Church of Christ's Wider Church Ministries were among response

organizations said to be evaluating the region's needs Wednesday night.

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."

The quake, which occurred at 10:54 a.m. (PST) 10 miles northeast of the state capital Olympia and 35 miles southwest of Seattle, caused a

large cracked the dome atop the state Capitol. The governor's mansion in Olympia was reported to have suffered heavy damage.

The temblor shattered windows and caused masonry to fall from buildings in the downtown Seattle area. Power was knocked out to more

than 200,00 people in the region. Telephone service was also disrupted.

The wall of at least one building collapsed and people were evacuated from other buildings, including City Hall in Seattle and the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland.

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell said his city avoided "catastrophic damage" because of seismic retrofitting.

Gov. Gary Locke declared a state of emergency and estimated damages in the Seattle area could run into the billions of dollars.

"Thank goodness the damage is primarily structural," Locke said. "It could run into the billions of dollars, quite frankly."

The Federal Aviation Administration said the control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was damaged by the quake and temporarily closed the airport, disrupting travel plans for thousands of people at the busy airport and at other locations around the country.

Buildings in Portland, some 150 miles from the epicenter, swayed for up to half a minute, according to witnesses.

An emergency operations center (EOC) was set up south of Tacoma. Schell said there were no reports of major fires or major injuries.

Crews were checking roads, bridges and buildings for structural damage. Some buildings could be condemned. Parts of U.S. Highway 101

northwest of Olympia were buckled by the jolt. Some mudslides were reported.

The temblor was felt from Vancouver, B.C., in the north to Portland, Ore., to the south. It was also felt as far as 700 miles in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The National Earthquake Information Center initially reported the magnitude of the quake at 7.0 but later lowered it to 6.8.

The epicenter was in the same general area as a quake that hit April 13, 1949, according to the center. That 7.1 temblor killed eight people. Monday's quake was about one-third as strong, it said.

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake struck near the Seattle area on Jan. 28, 1995. Another quake, this one measuring 6.5, hit on April 29, 1965 and

killed seven people.

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