Earthquake? Wha? Huh?
January 30, 2009, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Events, Random


Nope. I didn’t feel the 4.5 magnitude earthquake that hit the Seattle region at 5:25 this morning. (The picture above is the actual seismograph of it!) The dog didn’t bark, the cat (sleeping in my room) didn’t freak — aren’t they supposed to be our warning system?

One of the plusses of living in Eastern Washington was the drastically reduced chance of, well, dying in a huge earthquake. But, given the choice between living in Western or Eastern Washington, I don’t mind the risk. The only time I think about Seattle’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire is when I’m driving over the viaduct going, “Please don’t collapse. Please don’t collapse….”

Partially inspired by Annette’s recent post, I’ll take this opportunity to make a short, annotated list of the earthquakes I’ve experienced.

1. I was fortunate enough to be in the 1992 Landers earthquake in Southern California while visiting grandparents in Palm Springs. Not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry, this 7.3 magnitude earthquake came in two parts, if I remember correctly. I slept through the first half (c’mon, I was 7), but my parents woke me up in time to ride out the second half, crouched in a doorframe (terrified).

2. Sometimes considered an aftershock, the 6.4 magnitude Big Bear earthquake hit three hours after the Landers quake. These memories all blend together into one big earthquake, which sloshed tons of water out of the swimming pool out back and had my 72-year-old grandpa yelling, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” My 69-year-old grandma, dozing in a chair underneath a ceiling fan, woke up and started shouting, “Oh dear God! Oh dear God!”

3. The Duvall Quake in 1996, a 5.3 that hit Seattle in May, was interesting because I was back at my grandparents’ house in Palm Springs. So I missed it. But my stepdad, Brad, didn’t. He was at a Seattle Mariners game when the quake hit — and prompted several giant tiles to fall from the ceiling of the Kingdome. Anyone who followed the Mariners back then is sure to remember that whole Kingdome tiles fiasco.

4. It was early February and I was sitting at the kitchen table at my house in West Seattle, filling out those little Valentine’s Day cards you get at the drugstore. They were probably Looney Tunes ones, or something similar. I suddenly became aware of a distant rumbling, something far across Puget Sound to the west. The rumbling quickly grew closer and louder, perceptibly traveling eastward toward Seattle. By the time the shaking hit, I was halfway to the doorjamb. As it turned out, it was only a 3.9 magnitude quake. But I remember the tremor clearly.

5. That was it until February 28, 2001 — the Nisqually Quake. I was a sophomore in high school, and the earthquake hit when I was standing in line for lunch. I had just visited New York City, so when I felt a slight rumble under my feet, my brain automatically registered it as the subway underground. It took a split second for my reasoning to kick in — “Wait, Seattle doesn’t have a subway system” — and by then the quake had hit. Kids and teachers hit the deck, scrambling under tables and hugging support beams. The quake came in waves instead of violent shaking, and lasted about 45 seconds.

We were told to evacuate the building (our lunchroom was in the basement of an apartment building four blocks south of our school  — I know, it’s weird as hell) because chunks of the facade near the roof had fallen onto the sidewalk below. The school building itself, despite being 100 years old, was fine — old wood has a way of swaying and bending.

Initial reports gave the earthquake a magnitude of 6.0, but seismologists later upgraded it to 6.8. No one died, but a few buildings in Pioneer Square had corners that crumbled. Of course, the biggest casualty of that earthquake was the Alaskan Way Viaduct — which, as we all know, still hasn’t quite died.

6. I’d say this morning’s earthquake doesn’t really belong on my list, because I didn’t have a clue it happened until I read the news. The viaduct is still standing, though I’m sure today it will be crawling with engineers checking out its structural integrity. Perhaps the next time I drive on it I’ll be gripping the steering wheel just a little tighter.


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