Shakey ground

Today is the 10 anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake that shook the Seattle region and almost brought down the Alaska Way viaduct. 

I celebrated the day by driving the viaduct…for the first time in my life.  I took it southbound…you know, the direction that would get me pancaked in a collapse.

I was on my way to West Seattle to get a root canal.

You might say I was wishing for The Big One.

No such luck, as  I’m writing this from my phone while waiting in The Chair for the Novocaine to kick in. 

Update: Well, that wasn’t so bad. Root canals have a bad rep. I hereby apologize to the residents of the Puget Sound region for wishing mayhem, death and destruction upon them over my endodontic anxiety.


  1. 1

    Steve spews:

    A viaduct coming down. Sheesh. I was in San Francisco the afternoon of Loma Prieta trying to decide if I should head back to my Palo Alto office or to head over to the Kaiser offices in Oakland where I knew the guys would be working late. The day had been too weird for words so, lucky me, I decided to head back to Palo Alto. Otherwise, I might have been on the Cypress when it hit.

    Where I was in Palo Alto that day, the shaking was far more violent than Seattle in 1965 or 2001. It started out like any other quake but ramped up quickly to a level that was frightening. Then, just as quickly, it was over.

    I left the office afterwards to go home to check for damage. It was eerily quiet outside. My car radio couldn’t pick up any radio stations. I then suspected things were really bad. When I got home, only one local TV station was broadcasting. They were showing helicopter views of the Cypress. The talking heads didn’t quite understand what they were seeing. What I saw was that the upper deck rails were only a few feet from the lower lever rails. That was an “OMG” moment.

    I’ve avoided the Alaskan Way viaduct ever since. No way, no how.

  2. 2

    David spews:

    I was in the bus tunnel when the Nisqually earthquake hit. It was interesting to see the ground roll like a small wave in the Sound.

    There aren’t really any doorways to stand in or beefy things to get under in the tunnel; it caused me a momentary bit of panic.

    We drive the viaduct a lot, white-knuckled all the way.

  3. 3

    Deathfrogg spews:

    Yeah, I was in Sunnyvale when that one hit. Got home from work and had just enough time to get a shower and crack a beer in front of the TV for the world series game. The earthquake hit, I watched my roommates 150 gallon fish tank bounce off the wall about 20 times on its little metal stand, and then the power went out. That came on after only a couple of minutes, and all the news stations were starting to show the damage, including the damage to the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Freeway.

    It really didn’t seem that bad where I was at, off Wolfe Rd a few blocks from El Camino. But I went to my pops house about 2 hours later, in Southern Palo Alto, and his crappy little Eichler had about a 2 foot lean to it. Everyone around my neighborhood lost at least part of their chimneys. We didn’t have any substantial damage at all. The machine shop in San Jose I was working in, all the big machines had tipped over or slid around on the floor and crashed against each other.

    I was in Lake City for the one in 01, that didn’t seem as rough, but the ground continued to sway back and forth for about 10 minutes after the major shocks, which was terribly disconcerting.

    Thats made three major earthquakes for me. I was in the Los Angeles area, in Venice for the one in ’72 when I was 8 years old. Can’t wait until Mt Baker woofs its cookies.

  4. 4

    Liberal Scientist spews:

    I was in SF too that day!
    I was working at UCSF, and when the shaking started I got to a doorway, as instructed. What I remember very clearly was the sense that “it’s still going”. Most earthquakes are experienced in the past tense – there’s shaking, but it’s over quickly and you don’t consciously realize what it was until it’s past. That one was different – I had time to grasp that it was a big quake, and each time I though – “It’s going to stop now” it only got bigger and bigger.
    I was about 10 or 15 stories above Golden Gate Park, right next to floor-to-ceiling windows, the building on a steep hillside, and I kept having the sensation that we were about to slide down that hill – quite scarey.
    The bus ride home to the Mission District was silent, everyone glued to the windows looking at all the brick facades down on the sidewalk and the occasional tipped apartment – though none of the total collapse that mainly happened in the Marina.
    It was only when the TV was up and running that we saw the Cyprus and the Bay Bridge and the buildings in the Marina – that was a seriously bad quake – and reminds me that I need to get to Home Depot and get those sill plate bolts put in!

  5. 5

    Zotz sez: Teahadists are Koch suckers! spews:

    I need to get to Home Depot

    Home Depot are evil.

    Better: Go to Lowes

    Even Better: Local hardware (e.g., McLendons, Seabos)

  6. 6

    rhp6033 spews:

    A fellow I know, a medical doctor in the Army Researve, was scheduled to attend a series of conferences in San Francisco the day the earthquake hit there in 1989. He came down sick with the flu and canceled his trip at the last minute. The next day, when the quake hit, he checked his itenery. He would have been on the expressway which pancaked right at the time the earthquake hit. He showed me his schedule.

    Cypress Expressway Collapse

  7. 7

    Zotz sez: Teahadists are Koch suckers! spews:

    On the way to finding out other things, I note that the Political Buzz (TNT) blogroll lists Horse’s Ass but not the Stranger Blog.

    And Darryl, Lee et al: Thanks for keeping HA up and all that you do. And I still get to read Goldy at Slog. It’s a wonderful thing!

  8. 8

    ArtFart spews:

    My uncle is a dentist in Watsonville. He was in the middle of doing a root canal when the Loma Prieta quake hit, and had to wrap one arm around the patient to keep him from jumping out of the chair, brace his own legs against the chair and hold his other hand with the instrument he had down inside the patient’s tooth absolutely still while stuff was crashing to the floor all around them.

    I was born four months to late for Seattle’s quake in 1949, but I remember the 1965 one–I’d just arrived at my home room at Queen Anne High School. Everyone evacuated the building and stood under the power lines across the street (brilliant) and watched the three Queen Anne TV towers swaying back and forth.

    When the Nisqually quake hit, I’d just arrived at work at Ivey Imaging in South Lake Union and called Waste Management to warn them that one of their drivers should be persuaded to stop backing up into oncoming traffic on Ninth Avenue to avoid having to go around the block between pickups. (His truck was making so much noise he couldn’t hear the Metro bus desperately honking right behind him.) All of a sudden my computer monitor was trying to walk itself off the desk and into my lap. Once again, everyone filed outside and stood under the power lines. The shaking wasn’t enough to liquify the soil (that whole area’s on sandy fill) so instead it just cushioned everything so our 75-year-old buildings suffered no damage. Management was very proud that the processing department didn’t lose any film.

  9. 9

    Steve spews:

    “crappy little Eichler”

    LMFAO! Off and on through the years I’ve tried to recall the name of that architect. There were a lot of those in Palo Alto. There were also no shortage of imitation Eichlers.

    That year, 1989, was also the year of the mass exodus to Seattle. Like many Californians, a co-worker sold a “crappy little Eichler” in Sunnyvale that year and moved to Seattle, transfering to the Seattle office. He promptly cashed out a small farm on Bainbridge Island, and then paid cash for a new van and a motorcycle. My employer talked me into staying down there for another year. I reluctantly agreed, but was very worried that skyrocketing real estate prices would soon hit our area. When I finally moved back up in 1990 I went to Vashon to see if a little farm I’d seen in a real estate brochure was still for sale. I love Vashon, having lived there a couple of times in the 1970’s. The asking price in the brochure had been $125,000. I showed the real estate agent the brochure and he laughed at me. He said it had sold for $180,000, resold for $240,000 and was back on the market for $320,000. He asked if I was still interested. No, I wasn’t.

    I still have a copy of a 1989 Palo Alto Weekly that had an article dissing Seattle titled “Seattle, Shmeattle”. I also have a couple of copies I just dug out of a special edition of the San Francisco Examiner that came out after the quake with the following banner headline above a large photo of a collapsed Marina District apartment house,



    At that time, I figured the same – hundreds dead. It was amazing that the loss of life wasn’t as bad as everyone first thought. I credit the World Series for much of that.

  10. 10

    Steve spews:

    “The machine shop in San Jose I was working in, all the big machines had tipped over or slid around on the floor and crashed against each other.”

    I’ve followed seismic design for decades. Unless top-heavy, big stuff usually tends to slide rather than tip over. They got a handle on that during the Anchorage quake in 1964 and the codes started calling for equipment anchorage. Following Loma Prieta and Northridge, there was the realization that, although sufficiently anchored, a lot of critical equipment still failed to function following a quake. It was usually something minor, say like a relay shaking loose. The codes eventually called for critical building equipment to be seismically “certified”, usually shake table tested.

  11. 12

    Steve spews:

    “Once again, everyone filed outside and stood under the power lines.”

    I was in a fairly new downtown high-rise and after the quake a rather shaky voice came over the emergency voice system announcing that we should immediately evacuate the building. It wasn’t exactly a “Flee! Flee for your lives!” moment, but all the same, most everybody evacuated and there was a very large crowd standing outside looking up at the glass enveloped towers surrounding them. Sigh! That’s about the last thing you want to do after a quake.

  12. 13

    Randoid spews:

    In a PROPER conservative America, earthquake building codes should be optional, the choice of the builders and people who live and work and play in those structures. If they want to build to more expensive codes, that is their choice, but they shouldn’t be forced to. If they don’t trust the structures, nobody is FORCING them to go inside.

  13. 15

    Steve spews:

    @13 Indeed, Galtian employers should also be able to lock their employees inside the building that they elected not to build to the fire codes. And if there’s a “Triangle” type fire, they can just hire more workers to replace the dead.

  14. 16


    Zotz @ 7,

    You’re welcome. We’re trying to keep the content fresh and interesting. We all work full time, so we probably cannot keep up with Goldy for quantity (and, some will argue, quality).

  15. 17

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 15: Yep, their employment contracts would specifically remove the employer from any liability for injury or death from any reason, even if it was entirely the employer’s fault. And the employee’s family would have to pay the employer for any losses caused by the cost of cleaning up the mess.

    (You might think this was an exaggeration, but before the advent of Worker’s Compensation laws, this was common, especially in the railroad industry where a man was expected to lose a finger a year coupling and de-coupling cars.)

  16. 18

    Liberal Scientist spews:

    I try to shop local as much as possible.
    However, educate me – why is Home Depot bad, and why is it worse than Lowe’s?

  17. 20

    Deathfrogg spews:

    @ 10

    I had 6 bridgeport mills in a row, in the back area of the building that was sectioned off by a stand up plywood wall. The mills had no place to slide to, when I got there a couple days after the quake they were all tipped over on one another like dominoes. The big Cincinatti horizontal mill had slid over through the stand up wall, knocking that over, along with the big steel cabinets that were all parked along that.

    My lathes slid about 15 feet in towards the middle of the building, and all the shelving above them had collapsed. The place was a mess. Nothing was grouted down, and I left the place only a month later, for other reasons.

  18. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Just wait until you get an infected one, Darryl. That’s when root canals live up to their fearsome reputation.

  19. 22

    Zotz sez: Teahadists are Koch suckers! spews:

    @Lib Sci: Some links on Home Depot.


    Blue Pages excerpt (scroll down)

    HD Founder: Retailers who don’t support GOP “…should be shot, lose their goddamn jobs.”

    Lowe’s can’t be characterized as a “liberal” company: it gives more to conservatives, but to a lesser degree than Home Depot. Home Depot (and it’s management) is a big player in conservative fundraising circles, while Lowes is barely on the radar.

    Best bet is to patronize someone local.

  20. 23

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I once had one so bad the dentist sent me to the medical clinic across the street to get a penicillin shot in the ass. I was still waiting for Nurse Battleaxe to stick the horse needle in my butt when she told me to get up and get dressed. I was on so much painkiller I never felt that needle. But I sure as hell could still feel that damn tooth! That infected fucker did such a job on my neural system that it even made my toes hurt! The only painkiller that works on one like that is a bullet to the brain.

  21. 24

    Liberal Scientist spews:


    I love going there.
    It’s like Whole Foods all over again.

    At least I can feel better about finding products there and actually assessing them in my hands – and then ordering online for less!

  22. 25

    Steve spews:

    Speaking of the very tragic Triangle fire, there’s a show about it on PBS tonight. You can see how the mighty Galtians of yesteryear treated their employees.

    heh- Yeah, right on, Randroids, fuck the fire and life safety codes. There’s nothing wrong with a few employees reduced to charred cinders so long as you have achieved the increased profit margins you sought.

  23. 26

    Zotz sez: Teahadists are Koch suckers! spews:

    The only painkiller that works on one like that is a bullet to the brain.

    “…And as we all know, Roger Rabbit dodged the bullet, endured the pain, and lived to educate and entertain us to this day. The end.”


  24. 27

    rob spews:

    I was driving the I-80 causeway between Sacramento and Davis when Loma Prieta hit. I didn’t notice a thing. One of the neighbors asked if I’d felt the quake when I got home, so I turned on the tv to find out what happened. I remember having the same reaction to the talking heads as Steve @1; they were showing the Cypress and saying something about a “buckled roadway” or some such, when it was obviously much more than just buckled.

    In ’01 I was sitting in the livingroom of another ex-Californio in Olympia, and we both just sat there and said, “Oh, an earthquake. Cool.” Neither one of us bothered to get off the couch, much less go stand in a doorway. But then, nothing fell in that house, it just rattled.

    BTW, what’s happened to all the trolls? Did they get the boot, or have they just given up?

  25. 28

    Steve spews:

    @24 I see that Pudge has deleted all of your comments.

    Shorter Pudge, “If you’re a liberal who tells embarrassing truths I shall call you a liar and ban you. My wingnut admirers who tell supportive lies shall receive a pat on the head.”

  26. 29

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @27 I doubt they’ve been banned. Maybe the truant officer rounded them up and hauled them back to third grade.

  27. 30

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @28 Yeah, well, when have you ever seen a wingnut blog that didn’t censor any comments that don’t fit their ideology? I never have.

  28. 31

    CC "Bud" Baxter spews:

    It takes just a few minutes to drive the entire length of the viaduct. Even doing it two times a day, the amount is probably around 8 minutes max. If you are that unlucky that a once in 100 year earthquake happens to hit when you are spending your 8 minutes per day on the viaduct, you should just suck it up and realize your day has come. The chances of you personally being on the viaduct when it collapses because of a massive earthquake are infinitesimally small. Certainly way less than the infinitesimally small chance of being killed in a terrorist attack. If you are really concerned for your health, watch out for things like slipping in the shower, or getting killed in a car wreck. Or quit smoking for christ sake. I’m sick of people blowing these virtually non-existent threats way out of proportion. The war on “terror”, which is costing us trillions of dollars, is way down the list of real threats to our personal health.

  29. 32

    Liberal Scientist spews:

    Yeah, I was banned by pudge weeks ago on a thread of his about abortion, and he therefore deleted a post I tried to start a conversation with yesterday, one I actually sorta kinda agreed with him. Putz.

    I tried to comment on his thread yesterday about DOMA – I was actually sort of agreeing with him (in a limited way) in that I think that the only way to legally have a marriage is to do it civilly, and that would be open to any consenting adults. IF you want to then go do whatever in a church, great, but nothing that takes place in the church has any legal consequence. (He of course was taking the FREEDOM! position to the point that we must allow adult incest, and was criticizing same-sex advocates of bigotry for not advocating this, and in so doing was casting aspersions on any but Christian-sanctioned man-woman union. Asshole)

    He, of course, banned this, presumably because I’m a LIAR! a damned LIAR!

    He’s got a tic – I likened it to Tourettes, that instead of inappropriately yelling “Cocksucker! Fuck Fuck Fucking cocksucker!” or the like, pudge yells “LIAR LIAR LIAR” whenever he’s challenged on the cant he internalized at BIOLA. (It was really fun typing that over there – they’re very delicate in their sensibilities about potty mouths. Heh heh.

    Pudgey likes to masturbate with words – picking apart others’ posts and making picayunish points (jesuitical) to try to demonstrate that you’re either a LIAR! or somehow don’t grasp his subtle and inescapable logic.

    Uncle Witz was sparring with him the other day – in an extraordinary display of politeness and patience, I might add – and of course got banned for being a LIAR!
    Witz warned me about hanging out over there – apparently pudge or Stefan outed an anonymous liberal with their real name and real address – and who knows what those fascists over there would do with that!

  30. 33

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @32 “apparently pudge or Stefan outed an anonymous liberal with their real name and real address – and who knows what those fascists over there would do with that!”

    Slashed tires? Severed natural gas line? Truck bomb? Who fucking knows? All we know for sure is that wingers talk violent, flash guns in public, and blow up/crash planes into/set fire to building containing people they don’t like.

  31. 34

    slingshot spews:

    Another ‘survivor’ of Loma Prieta here. And check it out, we lived in an Eichler, too…in San Rafael.

    Our daughter was born at home two hours after the quake. The water broke at 3:05, the quake hit at 5:05 and she was born at 7:05 weighing 7.1 pounds. The quake registered 7.1 on the Richter scale. The Eichler’s bouncing around reminded me of the way the hull of a sailboat pooches around in rough seas.

    Steve…we have that same edition of the Chronicle saved as a keepsake for her.

  32. 35

    uptown spews:

    I survived the Loma Prieta too. Lived in a wood frame, stucco and plaster apartment building next to the foothills of the SC valley. Everything fell over inside, and you couldn’t stand during the shaking. But there was no damage to the building, not even a crack in the plaster. Friends leaving work reported the waves rippling thru the parking lot were so large, that the bumpers of cars were hitting.

    During the Nisqually, I started to think about taking cover under the desk, but by then it had stopped.

  33. 36

    yo spews:

    Darryl can feel free to pick apart my crummy, simplistic probability thoughts:

    *I spend 5 minutes on the viaduct everyday

    *For 5.5 days per week (I sometimes go to work on weekends and go back at night)

    *For 52.15 weeks per year (I go back to work enough on wknd/nights to discount accounting for sick/vaca days)

    *This is 0.002728175 of a year spent on viaduct (wow, that is depressing), per year.

    *Assume 0.8% annual probability of a pancake-
    viaduct earthquake

    *I have done this for 12 years.

    *THUS: 0.002728175*0.008 = 0.0000218254 annual probability I am on the viaduct when the big one hits, causing it to pancake.

    *I have done this for 12 years: (1-0.0000218254)^12 = 0.999738. This is the probability over the 12 years that I will not be on the viaduct during a pancake seismic event.

    *This is equivalent to 1 in 3820 chance of being on the viaduct pancake event.

    *Given my driving habits, I’m pretty sure I’m more likely to die (assuming this post is a reasonable estimate of the probability due to my driving habits) on the viaduct than get hit by lightning over a 12 year period. Very low, but not anywhere near zero.

    *a ten second google puts USA car deaths at about 43000 per annum per 305 million people. Using the same type of reasoning, I (or anyone in the US) generally has a 1 in 600 chance of dying in a car wreck over a 12 year period.

    This is only, let’s round, 7 times more likely than me being on the viaduct when it pancakes….again assuming all my assumptions and analysis is reasonably good at estimating risk.

  34. 37

    Steve spews:

    @34 “And check it out, we lived in an Eichler, too…in San Rafael.”

    Eichler. Now that’s funny. heh- You’ve got a couple reasons not to forget that day.

    @35 “Friends leaving work reported the waves rippling thru the parking lot were so large, that the bumpers of cars were hitting.”

    An architect I know was in the basement of the then new Stanford hospital and says that the exposed 36″ deep steel beams above him were waving.

    I was on the second floor of a loft style warehouse converted to offices in Palo Alto just off El Camino. It was a fun ride for about five or ten seconds, but it kept ramping up. The 1965 Seattle quake didn’t prepare me for that kind of shaking. I still can’t imagine Anchorage and four minutes at 8.4. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here anytime soon.

  35. 38

    Steve spews:

    @32 I thought Uncle Witz had already been banned. Same with Mikeboyscout, who was just banned the other day, maybe in that same DOMA thread. You too, for that matter. I thought you had already been banned. I think there’s been more bans over there than there are lefties. Maybe Pudge needs you all there so he can keep on calling you guys liars and banning you again and again. Hell, who really knows what the fuck goes on in krazed a wingnut’s head? Especially one with such as thick a skull as Pudge.