Earthquake shakes Pacific Northwest

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

SEATTLE (AP) -- A strong earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday, shattering windows in downtown Seattle and rattling Portland, Ore., for nearly half a minute.

There was no immediate word of injuries.

The magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit at approximately 10:55 a.m., according to federal officials at the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska. It was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle.

The quake was felt as far away as Salt Lake City.

In downtown Portland, office buildings swayed for 20 to 30 seconds, and local television stations were deluged by calls from viewers reporting rolling motion across the area.

In Seattle, portions of a brick building front fell onto the sidewalk in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. Some structural damage also was reported at Bellevue Community College east of the city. The college was closed for the day.

A spot fire near a warehouse also broke out in a West Seattle industrial area.

''Everyone was panicked,'' said Paulette DeRooy of Seattle, who was in an elevator descending from the 15th floor from a downtown Seattle building when the temblor struck. She and several others scrambled 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.

Video of the speech showed the stage shaking violently, and some overhead lights falling to the floor.

''This is the biggest thing I've ever felt,'' said Darcy Nebergall, 24, of Seattle, who was at work in a downtown skyscraper.

''It felt kind of like a big rollercoaster going by. You could feel the building sway, but you know they're built to withstand this kind of stuff. Or you hope anyway.''

Windows were popped out of some downtown building, and people who had left buildings gathered in the streets.

Alice Ayers, at her Seattle home, said it was ''like a giant truck was going by. Everything was kind of bouncing.''

Closer to the epicenter in Olympia, legislators, government workers and visiting school children 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,'' said Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient. ''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, he said. Some 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.

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