This earthquake didn’t get much attention even at the time it happened: a 5.2 or 5.5 (the authorities differ) quake centered in east Vancouver, it struck at 7:37 on a Monday evening. Overshadowed by the big Columbus Day storm of mid-October, not to mention the Cuban missile crisis and the next day’s elections, the Oregonian reported it inflicted “no reported injuries or serious damage.” At the time, seismologists placed the epicenter south of Portland. The paper said “it lasted only a few seconds, in contrast with other jolts with less intensity but of longer duration which have caused widespread damage in the area.”
The Oregonian: “Buildings shook violently, dishes were knocked off shelves, bricks in chimneys tumbled to the ground and some lights went out . . . The jolt was felt at Dexter, east of Eugene. . . Seattle reported only a slight tremor.
“In Camas and Stevenson, Wash., near where last year’s earthquake was believed centered, residents said it was the sharpest jolt they had ever felt.”
There was the normal surge of calls after the quake, and power was briefly lost in the Hillsdale neighborhood. The paper said otherwise, “damage in Portland was confined to cracked walls, toppling dishes and falling chimney bricks.” A San Francisco advertising guy named Charles Bigelow who was in the Portland Public Service Building said, “It is not a typical quake. It should be preceded by a rumble. Your quakes are unorthodox.”
In 2002, Richard L. Hill of the Oregonian revisited this quake. Lou Clark, a geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, said: “People were just shellshocked by the Columbus Day Storm, so the earthquake quickly was forgotten. Oregon at the time was considered a seismic desert, and earthquakes weren’t seen as much of a risk in the Portland area.
“The earthquake didn’t change building codes or anything like that, but it was an important event in that it made both Oregonians and the scientific community understand that the risk is real.
“I was by myself in the kitchen when things started shaking. I had no clue as to what was happening. I was too scared to move and too scared to scream. It didn’t last long, a few seconds, but it felt like five minutes.
“That earthquake is one of the reasons I’m a geologist now. It made a huge impression on me.”
Thomas Yelin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Washington, worked with seismologist Howard Patton of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and calculated that the quake was a magnitude 5.2, centered about 10 miles beneath the surface and nine miles northeast of downtown Portland.
Two days after the quake, with Oregon having re-elected Mark O. Hatfield as governor and elected Wayne Morse as U.S. senator, the Oregonian said: “Monday night’s violent, though brief tremor was one of a series [of earthquakes], each recalling to mind the fact that the ‘young’ mountains of the Pacific slope . . . are on the move. Monday night’s quake found us already conditioned to the sound of falling chimneys and to the light of candles. For it came less than a month after we were brushed by Typhoon Frieda’s swirling skirt. . . . We must agree that the loss of life has been providentially low. The daily routine has scarcely missed a beat. But we don’t have to like it. The wonder is that some people still complain about the soft Oregon rain.”
Basically, if the quake had been centered 50 or 100 miles to the east, it probably would have merited a couple paragraphs in the Oregonian and been entirely forgotten within a week. But, it’s possibly the biggest quake to hit the Portland-Vancouver area in the last century, or at least was before the ’93 Spring Break Quake. Look at a shake map for the quake, and the Oregonian’s front page on Nov. 6, ’62: