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February 28, 2001
Magnitude 6.8
10:55 am PST
centered 11 miles NE
of Olympia, WA USA

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The Washington Federal Savings Bank in
downtown Olympia sustained heavy damage.
(photo by Steve Bloom, The Olympian)

I was at work in Tumwater at 10:55 am on what I thought was a very normal Wednesday, February 28th.  When the shaking first began I didn't think much of it.  Large semi trucks regularly go by on the road next to our building on their way to the business next door.  I turned to my right to look out the large window that I sit next to but there was no truck.  I next thought, "Why didn't they e-mail us and tell us we would be having an earthquake drill today?"  Of course my brain finally made the leap to the fact that for the first time, this was not a drill, this was an actual earthquake.  All of this took about 3 seconds because it was still only a minor shaking when reality struck.

After the vibration lasted maybe 5 seconds the violent back and forth motion began.  I remember looking up at the suspended heating duct above me and watching it swing violently, creaking and scraping.  I remember now that the lights were already out at this point.  I didn't notice the lights go out but since I sit next to the big floor to ceiling window I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway.  I suddenly realized this wasn't going to be just a little shake and be done with.  Even though the entire earthquake only lasted about 40 seconds it sure seemed much longer.  I remember the events in kind of snapshots of time rather than a stream of events.  This may sound stupid but it was almost like I was in a movie.  I just couldn't believe it was really happening so it must be a movie that I was just watching.  So many weird things went through my head in just a matter of moments. 

The vertical blinds on the large window that runs the entire length of the building were clattering back and forth.  Some of my co-workers said the metal roof sounded like it was going to buckle and cave in it was rattling so loudly.  I don't remember hearing the roof.  I remember hearing people screaming and yelling things at one another.   The woman who sits next to me yelled, "Oh my God!  Help!  Help me!"  The picture frame I have on my desk with our wedding photo in it fell over.  

I had been listening to "The Night Is Still Young" by Billy Joel on my headphones and I got tangled in the headphone cord as I scrambled under my desk.  I skinned my knees on the carpeting as I pushed my chair back, dove to the floor and ripped the headphones off my head.  The oscillating fan I have under my desk fell over, almost landing on my hand and my computer was literally doing a jig across the floor towards me.  I remember trying to push it back into place but the violent north to south shaking increased and it just came over faster.  I pushed the button to open the CD ROM drive to get my CD out but without power it was just going to have to stay in there.  Suddenly the shaking slowed considerable and I thought it was over but then the building began pitching back and forth even more violently.  We were still only about 20 seconds into the quake. 

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The sidewalk and roadway that runs along Capitol Lake buckled
and sank.  It has been closed now even to pedestrians because it
continues to side into the lake. (photo by Steve Bloom, The Olympian)
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One of the supports just under the dome on the
Capitol Building sustained heavy damage.
(photo by Mike Salsbury, The Olympian)
While our building sustained no damage at all (it was built to be "earthquake proof"), the General Administration Building on the Capitol Campus where the rest of our division is located sustained quite a bit of damage.   From what I heard from people who were in the building at the time, computer monitors were falling off the desks and people under their desks were injured when the desks bounced so hard the underside of their desks were hitting them in the head. 

I opened the drawer to the left of my chair and grabbed for my cell phone in my purse.  Usually I have to fumble around for it when it rings but somehow my hand found it right away.  I don't know how long I sat there staring at my phone.  I could not for the life of me remember my own phone number.  I even have it programmed in but I think I was in shock because I couldn't even remember that.   Brian was at home with Tessa and I desperately needed to know that they were alright.  I kept thinking to myself, "Please stop.  Please stop."   It felt like the shaking was going to go on forever.  I finally remembered our number and dialed the phone.   Brian answered just as the shaking stopped.  They were both fine.  That's when I began to shake.  I had been doing pretty good until I heard his voice.  My relief was overwhelming and I began to shake and cry.  

Two of my co-workers were still in the building telling me we needed to go.  It hadn't even dawned on me that we needed to get out of the building.  Even though the state does earthquake drills I had never participated in one because they always did them during the day and those of us who had worked swing shift always missed out.  I was still talking to Brian on the phone as I grabbed my purse, my keys, one of the pictures of Tessa I have on my desk, and my other bag.  They kept saying, "Valerie, we have to get out now."  I know I heard them because I remember looking at them and telling them I was coming but I suddenly felt the need to straighten up my desk.  I guess I felt so out of control that I needed to try to put order to something.  I picked my headphones up and put them in the drawer and righted the toppled picture frame and I was getting ready to organize the batch I had been keying in when I realized the three of us were the only ones left in the Data Entry area.

With Brian still on the line I got out of the building.  My hands were shaking so bad I told him I'd call him back.  That was a bad idea.  I had called soon enough that the phone lines hadn't been flooded yet by other frantic callers, but by the time I tried to call him back a few minutes later I couldn't get through.

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Olympia firefighters rope off a damaged building in the downtown area.
(photo by Mike Salsbury, The Olympian)
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A car and a van in South Seattle are crushed by bricks that fell from
a building.  Thankfully no one was in the cars at the time.
(photo by Renee C. Byer, Seattle P.I.)
We all stood on the sidewalk talking and hugging one another.   Some people looked excited, other were crying.  I probably looked frantic.   The day after the earthquake I apologized to the two co-workers who had stayed inside to coax me from the building.  They told me not to worry about it.  Now they know that next time we are in a stressful situation they don't ASK me to come they just come GET me.   One of the supervisors came by and told people to come back after lunch.  I am off at noon anyway and it was just a few minutes before 11:00 am at this point so I jumped in my car and headed for home.  I walked through the front door about 20 minutes after the earthquake.
Brian had grabbed Tessa and went outside but he doesn't remember picking her up or opening the sliding glass door.  He doesn't even remember where he picked Tessa up from.  He just knows things were still shaking as he stood outside.  Just like at work, I began to clean as soon as I got home.  Looking back I really do think I was in mild shock.  I needed to restore order to my life even if it was only by cleaning the kitchen.  A few pictures had fallen off bookshelves and my lava lamp fell over but nothing broke.  There were several things I was sure were going to be on the floor and I was pleasantly surprised to see them still standing.  We did have a little bit of structural damage but I didn't find it until Sunday, 4 days after the quake.  The door jam around the door to the nursery had pulled away from the wall about 3/4 of an inch.  After picking up the fallen pictures, I packed a bag for Tessa.  If we suddenly had to go I wanted to make sure I had diapers, formula and clothes for her.  I didn't pack a bag for myself or Brian, just for the baby. seaquake2.jpg (22703 bytes)
Starbucks headquarters (the old Sears building) in South Seattle sustained heavy damage. (photo by Andrea J. Wright, Seattle Times)
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The clock in Pioneer Square in Seattle stopped at
10:55 when the quake struck. (photo by Renee C. Byer, Seattle P.I.)
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The roof of this South Seattle restaurant caved in and the
car and van from the photo above are seen here from the air.
(photo by Meryl Schenker, Seattle P.I.)
Power was out here at home too which is actually quite unusual.  We live right across the street from the hospital and are on the same power grid so we either don't lose power at all or it is restored very quickly.  We got out the radio to listen to what was going on here in town and outside the immediate area.  Even though my Dad had called and he works in the same building as my Mom, I kept trying to call my Mom in Seattle but was getting a busy signal.  I finally got through.  She had spoken to my sister and she was also fine.  Power finally came back on about 1:30 pm.  We turned on the local news and started recording what they were showing of the damage.  Although we were only 11 miles from the epicenter here in Olympia, the old Pioneer Square district of Seattle sustained quite a bit of damage.

We also turned on the computers to find we already had e-mail from friends and family asking if we were alright.  Returning people's e-mail and sending out messages to others was comforting and normal. 

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A woman in downtown Olympia grabs a piece of fallen
brick as a souvenir. (photo by Mike Salsbury, The Olympian)
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A large section of the northbound lanes of Highway 101
between Olympia and Shelton crumbled away.
(photo by Steve Bloom, The Olympian)
I won't even try to sit here and tell you how grateful I am to be alive and all that.  Amamzingly I never once felt like my life was in danger.   Even sitting there under my desk next to the huge floor to ceiling window, the thought never crossed my mind that I could die.  Somehow I just knew everything would be okay.  There were numerous injuries but only one death (a Seattle man suffered a fatal heart attack), billions of dollars in damages but no bridges or buildings collapsed.   I now know that the ground shook for 45 seconds here in the Lacey/Olympia/Tumwater area and we were extremely lucky to have come out on the other side with mostly just shaken nerves.  But the sad truth is, this was not "The Big One" that scientists say the northwest is way overdue for.  This quake was centered 30 miles deep which help spread the shockwaves out better.  Had it been closer to the surface, things would have been much worse.

In a strange twist of irony, the usually waterlogged hills of the Pacific Northwest at this time of year are uncharacteristically dry.  We are running so far behind in rainfall this season they are already asking us to cut back on water usuage so the strain isn't so tough this summer.  Had the hillsides been soaked by winter rains, there would have been dozens more mudslides adding millions of dollars more in damage and probably loss of life.   Mother Nature was looking ot for us a little bit on February 28th. 

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This mans car in Poineer Square was heavily damamged
by falling bricks. (Associated Press photo)
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A better look at the damage done to one of the buildings
in Pioneer Square.  The red car is the same as the one in the
picture to the left. (Associated Press photo)

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