Seattle earthquakes: A recap of earthquakes from 1700-2019

Seattle earthquake damage in 2001 and 1965.

Seattle and the Northwest have had several large earthquakes. Here is a recap of some of the big ones, primarily from HistoryLink.org.

2001: At 10:54 a.m. on February 28, 2001, a deep earthquake centered near the Nisqually Delta northwest of Olympia startles the entire Puget Sound region and causes more than $1 billion in damage to area buildings and roads. The 40-second quake, calibrated at a magnitude of 6.8 on the revised Richter Scale, injures an estimated 200 persons in the region, and is cited as the cause of a fatal heart attack in Burien. Hardest hit structures are located in Olympia, including the State Capitol, and in Seattle's historic Pioneer Square. The quake is the strongest since 1949, although a "weaker" 1965 temblor caused more damage and was blamed for seven deaths. (See the full text by Walt Crowley and sources here.)

1997: At 9:04 p.m. on May 2, 1996, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake shook Washington and Northern Oregon. It was centered about 20 miles northeast of Duvall. "It was a tremendous, tremendous shock," Dave Niehaus, who was broadcasting the Mariners game against the Cleveland Indians, told CNN. Coverage of the earthquake also interrupted an hour of Seinfeld – the two-part Bottle Deposit episodes of Season 7 – and Northwest residents missed out until the shows were released on DVD in 2006.
(See the story from CNN here.)

1995: A magnitude 5.0 earthquake shook Seattle and was felt from Canada to Yakima on January 29. The shaking started at 7:11 p.m. and it was centered 20 miles southwest of Seattle. (See the story from the Spokesman-Review here.)

1965: On the morning of April 29, 1965 at 8:29 a.m., an earthquake registering 6.5 magnitude occurs in Western Washington centered between Seattle and Tacoma. This is the fourth strongest documented earthquake in the Puget Sound region since 1850. Other strong earthquakes occurred in 1872 (estimated at 7.3 or 7.4 magnitude), 1949 (7.1), and 2001 (6.8). In 1965, three people are killed by falling debris, one on South King Street in Seattle's Pioneer Square and two at Fisher Flouring Mills on Seattle's Harbor Island. Four elderly women die from heart failure attributed to the earthquake. They live in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Port Townsend. The ground shook for about 45 seconds and was felt over a 190,000 square mile area including all of Washington state, northwest Oregon, southwest corner of British Columbia, north Idaho panhandle. The quake's epicenter was located near Des Moines, Washington, at 47 degrees, 24 minutes North Latitude and 122 degrees, 24 minutes West Longitude. Total damage is estimated at $12,500,000, most of it in Seattle. In Olympia, the State Capitol Building was temporarily closed and government departments move to nearby motels while buildings are being repaired. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1949: On April 13, 1949 at 11:55 a.m., a 7.1 magnitude earthquake occurs in Western Washington centered between Olympia and Tacoma. As of 2002, this is the largest earthquake in Puget Sound since non-Indian people started to immigrate and settle along its shores. Eight people were killed and dozens received serious injuries. The ground shook for about 30 seconds and was felt over a 230,000-square-mile area. The earthquake affected all of Washington state, northwest Oregon and south along its coast to Cape Blanco, southwest British Columbia, north Idaho panhandle, and even northwest Montana. The quake's epicenter was located at 47 degrees 06' 00" North Latitude 122 degrees 42' 00" West Longitude. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1946: On February 14, 1946, at 7:18 p.m. an earthquake strikes, centered between Olympia and Tacoma. The most damage occurred in Seattle's filled-in waterfront and tideland industrial area. The epicenter of the magnitude 6.3 quake was located at 47 degrees 18' 00" North Latitude and 122 degrees 54' 00" West Longitude. The quake was felt over a 165,000 square mile area. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1945: On April 29, 1945 at 12:16 p.m., a Magnitude 5.5 earthquake strikes near North Bend. The earthquake damages chimneys in nearby towns including North Bend, Roslyn, and Cle Elum. At Roslyn a boy is hit by a falling brick. At Mount Si near North Bend "the earth buckled and heaved, and tons of rock and earth cascaded down the 4,000-foot cliffs ... " The epicenter of the earthquake is at 47 degrees 24' 00" North Latitude and 122 degrees 42' 00" West Longitude and was felt over an 128,000 sq km area. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1939: On November 12, 1939, at 11:47 p.m., an earthquake centered 12 miles northwest of Olympia rattles the area. Chimneys collapse, and as far away as Seattle, the City-County Building is damaged. There are no fatalities or injuries reported. It is the most serious seismic event in Western Washington in 19 years. The shaking stops at 12:09 a.m. This quake was not rated on the Richter Scale, which at the time was only four years old. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1880: On December 7 and 12, 1880, two earthquakes strike the Puget Sound region. Frightened residents rush out of buildings. They are felt in Portland, Oregon, in Port Townsend, in Seattle, at the coal mines at Newcastle, and in the Stuck and Puyallup valleys in south King County. Shortly before the December 12 earthquake, an apparent meteorite is sighted crashing into the Chuckanut Mountains just south of Bellingham. Over the next three months, a number of aftershocks follow.
(See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1872: On December 14, 1872, at 9:40 p.m. an earthquake is felt throughout Washington Territory, especially in Western Washington. There are four shocks over an eight-minute period.  In Seattle "frame buildings swayed to and fro like a small craft at sea." A Seattle newspaper reported that the earthquake came in "an undulating motion, from South to North, like waves of the ocean, unaccompanied by any violent jar, or irregular upheaval ..."(Puget Sound Dispatch December 19, 1872). Another paper stated, "frame buildings swayed to and fro like a small craft at sea" (Weekly Intelligencer December 16, 1872). (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1869: On June 29, 1869, just before 8 p.m., the Puget Sound region had an earthquake that was felt from Astoria, Oregon, to San Juan Island and perhaps all the way to Victoria, British Columbia. At Seattle the earthquake is described by the Portland Oregonian as "much heavier than any before known in this vicinity." A week before, on June 22, 1869, just before 5 a.m., Seattle and Olympia felt an earthquake. According to the June 29, 1869 Victoria, British Columbia Daily British Colonist, the quake in Olympia "terrified all who are in the least inclined to timidity." (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1833: On June 29, 1833, an earthquake shakes the Puget Sound region. William Tolmie, recently the Hudson's Bay Company officer in charge of Fort Nisqually, records the event in his journal. Tolmie's journal entry records the first eyewitness account of an earthquake in the region. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

1700: On January 26, 1700, at about 9:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time a gigantic earthquake occurs 60 to 70 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast. The quake violently shakes the ground for three to five minutes and is felt along the coastal interior of the Pacific Northwest including all counties in present-day Western Washington. A tsunami forms, reaching about 33 feet high along the Washington coast, travels across the Pacific Ocean and hits the east coast of Japan. Japanese sources document this earthquake, which is the earliest documented historical event in Western Washington. Other evidence includes drowned groves of red cedars and Sitka spruces in the Pacific Northwest. Indian legends corroborate the cataclysmic occurrence. (See full text by Greg Lange and sources here.)

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