Posts Tagged ‘Nisqually earthquake’

I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula. When I was small, we lived in a double wide mobile home. There was a period when we were regularly having earthquakes that we could feel (and occasionally see). I remember crying each time one hit – and my mother explaining how we can keep safe during them. After one notable one (I’d guess around a 5.0), my mother asked me why I was so afraid of earthquakes. “Because,” I replied, “I know if the house breaks all of the spiders from the attic are going to fall on me.” It was at that point that we realized that I was really afraid of spiders, and not earthquakes. At that point, I actually became very interested in earthquakes, tectonics, geology, etc. We live in an area rich for study of all those fields. Following area seismology became something of a hobby of mine – and still is to this day.

During my freshman year in high school (2000-2001), our pep band got to travel with our boys basketball team to the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. After the tournament was over, we went over to the Safeway area on 6th Ave in Tacoma to get some food before making the long drive back to the north Olympic Peninsula. My friend Ryan (a girl) and I had gotten Jo-Jo’s from the deli, while Michelle and Larissa got cookies and funfetti frosting. We regrouped at the drink aisle. As we stood there, debating what type of Sobe to get, the ground began to shake. Because we were on an aisle full of glass bottles, the sound was similar to that of the terrible neighbor that takes their glass recycling out at 1 am on a Tuesday.

Now, Ryan was not, is not, and never will be the brightest person out there. Immediately upon feeling the shaking ground she throws her hands up in an exasperated fashion and yells, “WILL SOMEBODY STOP SHAKING THE STORE!” At this point, Michelle starts screaming and pulls Larissa to the ground as they ducked and covered. At this point, I chime in to quell the teenage girl freakout and say, “Guys. We’re having an earthquake. Chill.” No sooner had the words escaped my lips than a Safeway employee comes bolting up from the back of the store screaming, “GET OUT OF THE STORE!! GET OUT OF THE STORE!!”

Michelle and Larissa ran out with the employee. Ryan and I looked at each other, not wanting to shoplift, put our items on the floor and casually walked out. In the parking lot we tried to jump the undulating asphalt – but the wavelength was too great. I remember looking behind me and seeing the school buses bounce off the ground – seeing a good deal of space between the ground and the tires. I remember wondering when it was going to stop – enjoying the sensation – being awestruck by the power.

The next earthquake I felt after that was while I was living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – it was not the utterly devastating one in 2010 – but a smaller 5.? that struck around 2005. I remember the sound of a ravine side collapsing taking a number of shanty homes and people with it.

Earthquakes still fascinate me – but I am absolutely not in denial of their sheer power. I currently live very close to the Denny regrade, a few blocks above I-5. I question the solidity of the ground beneath me. I keep my three days’ supply of water and first aid stuff easily accessible – but I wonder what good it will do me if my building collapses. While on one hand, I’d say I’m not exactly afraid of “the big one” – I should say in most arenas of life, I do not live in fear of it. However, I do have this twinge of fear that it’s going to strike when I’m not wearing any pants. Again – much like the spiders – I think this says much more about my fear of being exposed than my fear of earthquakes.

That is the end of my story – but I will tack on two abridged stories that I’ve heard in “Remember the Nisqually quake?” conversations.

My friend Steve installs AVL systems. He was performing regular upkeep on the Key Arena jumbotron that day – and he recounted to me that this multi-ton jumbotron (that despite being hung on a pulley/chain system DOES NOT MOVE) was swaying about a foot in any direction.

I’ve also heard from a woman who was working in the upper portion of the Columbia Tower that, “We hardly felt it at all – but the building let out a deep groan.”

That’s all I have to say about that.

By Kim Merrikin


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Hard to believe the earthquake was ten years ago already. I was at work, mere steps away from my desk and I remember how quickly the shock turned to instinct as everyone took shelter at the nearest spot possible. I was under the doorframe of an office on the second floor at a business that doesn’t deserve mention. We were located less than a quarter mile from the corner of alcohol mecca – both the Columbia and Chateau Ste. Michelle wineries and Red Hook Brewery were an easy walk away.

Outside the window of the office was one of the few remaining vacant fields in the area, and I remember seeing it ripple like an ocean wave and feeling that uneasy sensation a fraction of a second later. The whole building was in flux for an eternity that lasted seconds. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since, but the threat of the big one was embedded in anyone who grew up in the Puget Sound. I remember it being the day after near riots in Pioneer Square and it seemed like penance for that event down there when you saw the damage. My fiancee was downtown in the Washington Mutual Tower and vividly remembers the whole building swaying back and forth for what seemed like the entire day.

By Chad Biggs (This story was first posted on Intersect.com 10 years after the Nisqually quake)

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The cars in the parking lot jumped around. The day of the Nisqually earthquake, I took my elderly father to the Dick’s Drive-in on the foot of Queen Anne Hill near the Seattle Center. He met there with a small group of elders each morning at about 11 AM for coffee. We were sitting on hard chairs attached to small tables with the elders sharing stories when the room began to shake. A huge chandelier in the center of the two story room began to swing, and the cars reflected the ground movement by jumping toward the building and then away. Oh, no, an earthquake, I thought, but this is going longer than I want, and when will it stop? Should I try to get these elders under the tables to protect them if the building begins to cave in? But how would I get them back in their seats after it’s over? After a few seconds, I decided to just ride it out and hope for the best.

When the shaking stopped, we had collected ourselves, and the chandelier stopped swinging, I had an appointment in Ballard. Along the way, I saw no damage until I got to the Ballard Bridge where a few light standards had bent in two. My husband, who was working in West Seattle, drove immediately from there to Magnolia crossing the Viaduct and the Magnolia Bridge both ways, all before both structures were closed. At our home all he saw was a scattered stack of CDs and a cupboard door standing open.

We have a cabin on the ocean north of Ocean Shores, and friends were staying there at the time. They had just arrived and were unloading the car when it hit. The beds in the upstairs beat a tattoo on the floorboards as they grabbed their kids and headed for higher ground in case a tsunami was on the way.

Mother rode out the shaking in her recliner in their Queen Anne apartment. Her condo experienced a crack that opened up in the wall near the ceiling, but none of the other units had any damage.

By Gail Martini-Peterson

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After the Nisqually quake, the Lancaster New Era, in Pennsylvania, caught up with three natives who’d since moved to Seattle and got their earthquake stories. Bill Stainton, a tv producer, said:

“I went and stood under a doorway. It’s kind of like pulling the covers up over your head. Then the monsters can’t get you. I hear some people were up in the Space Needle. That had to be hairy.”

“It’s a little wake-up call to remind you that there is a higher power out there controlling things. At first it felt like there was a huge truck outside, or construction. But that was just a preamble. Once things got rocking, it was like you were on a canoe and someone was rocking the boat. Or you felt like a marionette and someone dropped the strings.”

Bob McCaffrey said: “It was real scary. It really happened fast and furiously. We dove under our desks and there was a lot of screaming. Some dust and debris fell from the ceiling and the light fixtures were swinging like mad.

“There was a feeling of helplessness afterward. Phone lines were jammed, everyone was trying to reach their loved ones.”

And the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

When the quake hit, John Lentz was diving for geoducks, the largest clams in North America. He was standing on the floor of the Puget Sound, 20 feet under water, when he heard “a rumbling noise like large boulders going down a slope.”

At first, Lentz thought it was his 36-foot fishing boat exploding. “It took me 10 seconds before I figured out that it was an earthquake.”

Because his crew members were on the boat, they didn’t feel the quake. But when they heard the noise from the microphone attached to Lentz’s mask, they panicked.

Finally, he surfaced and told them he thought it was a quake.

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I’m 18 now, but back then I was 10 or 11 and in the 4th grade. I remember walking into the computer lab, my favorite class of the day. Everything was going normal, my friends and I goofing off in the back of the classroom without computers. However soon everything started shaking. We all looked around wildly, wondering what could be the problem. I recall my friend saying “is this an earthquake?” and without hesitation I began to scream in my high pitched preteen voice “EARRRRRTTTHHHHQUAAAAKEEE!!!!”

We all dove underneath the computer desks as the shaking got worse. This was the first time in my life that I can recall ever swearing when scared, as the words “shit” and “fuck” had recently been added to my personal dictionary. By the time it was over, we had two e-macs (yeah, remember those big things?) fall to the ground, and everyone was visibly shaken. Right away everyone was called to their homerooms, and one by one parents started showing up to pick up their kids.

I live up on Beacon Hill, and nothing was even remotely damaged at my house. The only noticeable thing was my cat seemed to generally be scared shitless.

Aside from the bomb threat, best day of 4th grade ever.

By Brian Traverso

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February 28, 2001 – a date forever etched in my memory. It was my retirement date after thirty years of working for the Washington State Department of Revenue. And even though, that, in and of itself, is a significant milestone in my life, it is somewhat overshadowed by events that occurred that same day.

On that particular morning as usual I reported to work at 8:00 a.m. An office retirement party had been held in my honor the day before, so this day was really a clean up and to say goodbye to friends I had worked with for many years. I had been busy during the morning packing up a few of my belongings and attending to a myriad of details. It was now 10:54 a.m.

I was sitting in my office with our new boss plus the three other managers. We were discussing a financial business issue when all of a sudden, the building began to shake. It took a second for it to register, and then all of a sudden we knew! Earthquake! I jumped up past the others in my office, got to my office door, and yelled out to the general population of employees, “Under your desks! Under your desks!” Then I proceeded to run back and get under my desk. I scooted in head first as far as I could get. One of the other managers, Julie, who had been sitting in a chair in my office, attempted to crawl underneath my desk with me. Just that mental picture of the two of us trying to squeeze under my desk is a comical one.

As earthquakes go, this one was a doozy. It measured a 6.8 magnitude and violently shook southern Puget Sound. The epicenter was located approximately fourteen miles from our office building and eleven miles from the State Capitol Building.

The shaking seemed to go on for ever. I could hear my coffee cup jumping around on my desk and was aware of Julie trying to crawl even further under my desk and on top of me. Finally, the shaking stopped, and our Emergency Preparedness Training kicked in. We began evacuating staff just as we had practiced many times. Even the evacuation of our employee in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic, went like clockwork.

Our two-story building was located close to Interstate 5. As staff was evacuating the building, it was surreal to look out the windows as we went down the stairs, and see cars traveling the Interstate like nothing had happened. By comparison, we and our staff we were quite shaken, no pun intended, and our building inside was in shambles. Ceiling tiles had fallen to the floor and some were still hanging askew from the ceiling. Books and papers were strewn all about the floor and chairs were overturned.

After we evacuated the building, some of the employees were crying and it took a bit to calm then down. They were all worried about their own family’s and just wanted to go home. Our boss told them they could go. As a side note, in hindsight, I don’t think that was the right decision at that particular time. In my opinion, for everyone’s safety, we should have stayed in the parking lot by the building until we were assessed of the earthquake damage, as we had no idea what kind of obstacles employees would encounter on their way home, or even more serious, be of hindrance to ongoing emergency efforts.

Still in all, I took this opportunity to check on my home and family. The roads were clogged, but I finally managed to get to my house which was about three miles away from the office. No one was there. However, a beautiful vase filled with red roses that I had gotten at my retirement party the day before was lying on the living room floor in a pool of water. In the kitchen, I found some decorative plates on the floor. As I walked down the hallway, in the first bedroom, the bookcase had fallen over. Books were strewn about, and my son’s Boy Scout Brown Derby car was buried underneath. Next, I attempted to check my bedroom, but the door was partially shut and hard to open. I had stored a piece of wood behind that door, and it had fallen over, partially closing and now blocking the door. I finally got the door open and looked about. The big picture over my bed was now of the floor behind the headboard, and my two end table lamps were on the floor as well.

My son and his family finally arrived at my house. My oldest grandson, Kenny, thought the whole episode was pretty cool. The two younger ones, Michael, six and Jennifer, four, were both still a bit traumatized about what had happened. Michael was quite concerned about the bookcase that had fallen over in the bedroom. We tried to assure him that it was okay, that we’d get to it later. But he persisted in his concern, so my daughter-in-law Bonnie and I finally went in and righted the bookcase and put everything back on the shelves. Michael was in the room with us, and as we uncovered his Dad’s Boy Scout Brown Derby car under the pile of books, he grabbed it and went into the living room.

It’s an interesting dilemma to try and understand just what a child is really trying to express. It seems, for Michael, the whole scary shaking experience almost went away when he finally had something familiar in his hand.

With my family settled at my place, I went back to work that afternoon to finish cleaning up my work space. As I left the building for the last time as an employee, the Disaster Recovery Team, of which I was a member, was meeting in our conference room. It was a freeing experience to walk to the door of that conference room with my work possessions in hand, wish everybody well with the recovery, and walk out the front door guilt free. What a day!

But, it still wasn’t over. Later that evening, my former boss threw me a retirement party at his house. I wasn’t sure how many people would be able or want to show up given what had transpired that day, but there was a wonderful turnout at we all had a great time, not only reliving work stories, but everyone had a story for that particular day. Julie, the manager and my counterpart got up to speak. She talked about work experiences we had shared, and someone mentioned her trying to crawl under my desk right when the earthquake struck. A couple of the other managers who were in my office at the time, said it looked liked she was kissing my patooty goodbye!

The night before the earthquake my son Jason, daughter-in-law Bonnie and my three grandchildren, Kenny, Michael and Jennifer had all been in the State Capitol Building. We climbed all the way to the top to the cupola. We had a beautiful expansive view of the city below and as Kenny and I stood there gazing at the city lights, I said to him, “Boy, I sure hope we don’t have an earthquake about now!”

As far as retirements go, I’d say mine was one for the record books. It’s one I’ll never forget for many reasons, one being that no one that I knew was injured or killed because of the earthquake, second, that my family and I were safe and lastly, I was finally retired! What a memorable day!

By Niela Rockey

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I wasn’t actually in Olympia at the time of the 2001 Nisqually quake, and my friends who were here have better stories to tell, but I thought I’d send mine in anyway.

I was living in Snohomish, Washington, about 75 miles north, and it was my day off. I lived in an apartment complex that had huge iron chains about five inches around between brick posts instead of a fence. I had never seen these chains move.

On the morning of the earthquake I was standing by the street drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette with a good friend. Suddenly there was a strange sound and the huge iron chains I had thought immobile began swinging.

My neighbor ran out of her apartment screaming (she probably has a better story, heck, anyone probably does) and before I understood what was happening it was over.

I didn’t see it on your blog so I included the image of what a pendulum drew in sand during the quake.

By Cole Cunningham

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When the Nisqually earthquake hit, the Yakima Herald-Republic went around town, gathering stories from people for an article it published the next day (March 1, 2001). Here are a few samples:

Renee Armstrong, who was in the stockroom of the crystal and china department at the Bon Marche: “I didn’t hear anything. Nothing broken. We’re used to listening to breaking glass, so maybe I’m just not in tune like someone else would be, who isn’t working around glass all the time.”

Brad Davidson: “I was putting in a garage door for people, and moving around on the ladder so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel it. I grew up in California, so I’ve had those earthquake experiences. One other guy here was driving down the road when it happened, but he was in a Chevy so it’s real rough anyway.”

Wendy Martinez, manager of the Las Margaritas restaurant on North 16th Avenue in Yakima, said: “We had one customer, and if it wasn’t for my aunt calling from California to ask if we were OK, I wouldn’t have known it happened. But we’re still talking about it. We’re lucky.”

And Joan Arnold, manager of Yakima Tropical Fish and Pet Village, said: “We didn’t even know we were having an earthquake, and I didn’t notice anything going on with my animals. At my home in West Valley, my roommate was home and said the dogs alerted her to it. They got right up to attention, almost paralyzed in place.”

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The Western Michigan University women’s gymnastics team was in Seattle for the Nisqually quake, up on the observation deck of the Space Needle. Coach Terry Casperson: “I can’t think of a scarier place to be. Once we realized it was an earthquake, terror kind of ripped through you because you have no control over what’s going to happen.”

Julie Blue, a 20-year-old member of the team: “We heard this rumble coming up the shaft of the Space Needle, and it started shaking really bad. My heart is still racing.”

By the way, I discuss how the Space Needle was constructed against seismic threats at some length in a review of a book about NW earthquakes.

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When the Nisqually quake happened, Curtis Johnny Sr., a 48-year-old man living in a South Park apartment, came pretty close to dying. A few days after the Nisqually, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer told his story, and here’s what Johnny said happened: “First there was a little tremor. Darlene [Saxby, his girlfriend,] said, ‘What’s that?’ I said it was an earthquake. At first she didn’t believe me.” The building’s chimney started crashing through the apartment. Johnny: “I knew some of it was bricks, because I could hear them hitting the floor. My first thought was that it was all over. I thought that the roof had fallen in on both of us, and all that was going through my mind was that we were going to be trapped in there.”

The fallen chimney trapped Johnny and Darlene inside the apartment, but their neighbors got them out. Johnny came away with fractured vertebrae and a compressed disc. Darlene said: “Things happen in a split second. To know a person you love can be taken in a split second is enough to make you realize: Don’t take it for granted.”

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