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Earthquake shocks Pacific Northwest

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©Associated Press, February 28, 2001

SEATTLE -- A strong earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday, dropping bricks on the streets of downtown Seattle and knocking out power to thousands of people. There was no immediate word of any injuries.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit at 10:55 a.m., said officials at the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska. It was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle and felt in Salt Lake City, 700 miles away.

"Everyone was panicked," said Paulette DeRooy, who was in an elevator descending from the 15th floor from a downtown Seattle building when the temblor struck. She and several others scrambled onto a fire escape.

Screams erupted at a nearby hotel, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates was addressing an education and technology conference. He was whisked away as his audience bolted for the exits. Some audience members were knocked down by others trying to get out.

Video of the speech showed the stage shaking violently, and some overhead lights falling to the floor.

"I thought a car had hit my building," said Sam Song, who owns a restaurant in Everett, 30 miles north of Seattle. "Then the ground started moving around."

Utility officials estimated that 17,000 customers were without power.

In downtown Portland, Ore., office buildings swayed for 20 to 30 seconds, and television stations were deluged by calls from viewers reporting rolling motion across the area. Michelle Noonan of suburban Lake Oswego said the quake was strong enough to move things around in her house.

"Everything was shaking," Noonan said. "It knocked over a wood pile outside house. Books fell off the shelf."

Earthquake magnitudes are measures of earthquake size calculated from ground motion recorded on seismographs. With each scale, an increase in one full number -- from 6.5 to 7.5, for example -- means the quake's magnitude is 10 times as great.

A quake with a magnitude of 6 can cause severe damage, while one with a magnitude of 7 can cause widespread, heavy damage.

A 5.0 quake that struck the Puget Sound area on Jan. 28, 1995, was described as the strongest to hit the area in 30 years, since a 6.5 earthquake struck April 29, 1965, injuring at least 31 people. In 1949, a 7.1 quake near Olympia killed eight people.

The Northridge quake that struck the Los Angeles area in January 1994 caused an estimated $40 billion in damage and killed 72 people. It was a magnitude 6.7.

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