Quake shakes up legislators, cracks stone buildings of capitol

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

OLYMPIA (AP) -- The state Legislature shuddered to a halt Wednesday morning when a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck about 10 miles north of this capitol city, cracking part of the 74-year-old Capitol dome.

Figuring out the repair bill will take weeks, legislative leaders said they might have to find a temporary home for the House and Senate, depending on how bad the damage is.

Legislators and their staff dove under desks and hung onto doorways -- and each other -- as the quake rocked the massive stone buildings.

''Help me Jesus,'' prayed Senate staffer Annette Suillie, 34, as she watched the office windows she had been trying unsuccessfully to pry open all year suddenly pop open. ''I felt like I was in my washing machine when it gets off balance.''

Chandeliers swayed as chunks of plaster and gilt from the ornate Senate ceiling rained down onto empty desks. Screams rang out in some hallways when the lights snapped off.

Senators jumped under heavy wood tables in the party caucus rooms.

''Everyone was clutching on to one another underneath the table, just hoping for it to end,'' said Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup.

In Lt. Governor Brad Owen's office, a false ceiling with lights installed in it crashed down on a desk. Luckily the desk was empty.

''Kudos to that elementary school training about earthquakes,'' Owen said. ''Everyone headed for a doorway.''

As they scurried to evacuate the legislative building, many people were thinking about the massive stone dome above their heads. The building was retrofitted for earthquakes about 20 years ago, but was due for another major renovation beginning next year.

''We do not want to be in here, we do not want to be in here,'' chanted Sen. Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, as she clutched arms with two other senators and escaped down the marble stairs. As soon as they got clear of the Capitol they collapsed into a tight hug.

Downtown Olympia was hit hard, with shattered shop windows and rubble littering the streets. Streets were blocked off and some cars sat in the streets hours later, still parked where their owners had stopped.

''When it hit the building, it was like a bomb going off,'' said Steve Cooper, owner of the two-story Washington Federal Savings Bank building, built in 1915. He was standing in the outside doorway when he watched the quake roll toward him, a three-foot swell that lifted buildings, sidewalk and pavement. A cascade of stone and tile fell from his building, crushing the hood of a parked car.

''It was like a waterfall,'' Cooper said.

No major injuries were reported on the Capitol campus, only scrapes and bruises, said State Patrol Captain Colleen McIntyre. Engineering teams cautiously began letting workers back into some office buildings Wednesday afternoon to collect their belongings, but the dome's legislative building remained off-limits for a while. Cracks in the buildings were visible on some walls and in stairwells.

The Legislature may have to find temporary quarters to finish out its 105-day session depending on what the structural engineers determine, said Senate Republicans Chief of Staff Jim Troyer.

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