THE ROLLING QUAKE hit about 10:55 a.m. and sent people pouring out of Seattle City Hall and from skyscrapers throughout the city as it continued for nearly 30 seconds before subsiding.
Windows shattered in some buildings and debris and bricks loosened from buildings cascaded onto sidewalks and some city streets. Frightened residents said they could hear metal grinding as the citys famed Space Needle rocked to-and-fro, though the buildings owner later said it apparently came through the quake unscathed.
Seattles Haborview Medical Center reported treating at least 29 people for quake-related injuries, four of whom were in critical condition. It said the injuries ranged from crushing injuries, to burns and cardiac failure.
The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was closed and the tower and other offices were evacuated, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman William Shumann said.
The FAA ordered a national ground stop for Seattle, which meant no flights to the Northwests largest city were being allowed to take off anywhere in the country. The center handling air traffic in Washington and Oregon, near Auburn, Wash., was operating on backup power.
Federal emergency teams were mobilized in Washington state and
President Bush, traveling in Iowa, said the government was staying on top of it.
In Seattle, fire crews responded to more than 30 emergency calls. One of the potentially more dangerous situations involved a warehouse full of highly flammable carpets in south Seattle, where flames could be seen burning through the roof of the building.
Gas leaks were reported at several downtown buildings.
At a news conference, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell said an initial assessment indicated that damage was widespread, but not severe. I think we have weathered it, he said. It looks so far as if everything is working but it is too soon to tell.
February 28 MSNBC Cable reports on the Seattle earthquake.
Seattles popular Pioneer Square neighborhood, site of Mardi Gras riots this week, suffered some of the heaviest damage. At least three buildings collapsed and bricks were strewn across the streets.
Bridges and elevated freeways were closed for inspection of possible damage. Traffic continued flowing across Lake Washington bridges linking Seattle and communities to the east.
Utilities estimated that more than 200,000 customers lost power. Many people were stranded at least briefly when elevators stopped between floors.
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.
Earthquake hits Northwest
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