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Epicenter of 6.8 earthquake 11 miles northeast of Olympia

THE OLYMPIAN STAFF

South Sound today will begin to assess the long-term cost from a powerful earthquake that caused widespread damage and left thousands shaken - but, miraculously, few seriously injured.

Many residents will have an unexpected day off as schools and most state offices remain closed while buildings are inspected.

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck at 10:55 a.m., lasted about 45 seconds and was centered 30 miles beneath the Nisqually Delta, according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

The quake, the area's strongest since 1949, wreaked havoc across South Sound.

·The city of Olympia evacuated 13 buildings and tagged 14 more as potentially dangerous because of quake damage.

·The Fourth Avenue bridge in downtown Olympia was closed indefinitely because of damage.

·The stone exterior of the Capitol dome cracked.

·Debris from the facades of downtown Olympia buildings littered streets.

·Northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101 were closed because of a landslide.

·Rail traffic ground to a halt after six miles of track were damaged. Sea-Tac Airport also was closed for hours, with planes diverted to Portland, which also felt the quake.

·More than 50 Olympia residents were at least temporarily displaced from their homes.

In addition to the damage, the quake left thousands of people unnerved.

"It felt like the end of the world, " said Casey McKee, an employee of the Fifth Avenue Fabric and Clothing Gallery. "It felt very frightening."

At first McKee thought people upstairs were doing work on the floor, but then she realized it was a quake and ran for the nearest door.

"You learn that when you're a little kid, " she said.

As many as 15 residents of The Olympian Apartments in downtown Olympia were unaccounted for shortly after the quake, but rescue workers located all of the residents of the historic former hotel, which also is home to The Urban Onion restaurant and Fireside Book Store. None of the residents was injured, but 52 residents, mostly elderly, were displaced.

Early damage reports indicate that Olympia took the brunt of the quake. The city of Lacey reported minor water breaks, intermittent power outages and stoplights knocked out of commission.

"We've been fairly lucky so far, " Lacey spokesman Scott Spence said.

Damage reported in outlying areas was minimal.

Gov. Gary Locke declared a state of emergency for Western Washington Wednesday afternoon, while the Thurston County commissioners and Olympia Mayor Stan Biles joined King County officials in declaring states of emergency in their jurisdictions.

The action gives emergency management directors the authority to begin applying for federal and state aid to repair damage as the county recovers from the quake, which was felt in British Columbia, Spokane, and parts of Oregon 300 miles away.

Joe Allbaugh, new director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, arrived at McChord Air Force Base at 11:25 p.m., and will spend today touring the area.

Across the region, the quake shut down all shipping traffic on Puget Sound, closed Sea-Tac airport for several hours and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. It also briefly trapped about 30 people atop Seattle's swaying Space Needle.

The Olympian Apartment building was just one of many downtown Olympia buildings with damage. Skookum Bay Outfitters lost a portion of its facade, as did the Washington Federal building, and storefront windows throughout downtown were broken.

A beam also dislodged on the eighth floor of the Ramada Inn Governor House, prompting its evacuation.

Providence St. Peter Hospital reported treating 50 patients with minor injuries as a result of the quake, and both St. Peter and Capital Medical Center said many of the complaints were of chest pains caused by quake-related anxiety.

Local home improvement stores with racks of hardware and building supplies fared well.

Olympia Hardware Supply Store Manager Jeff Bean said the store was a bit of a mess, but the staff was ready to start helping people by noon.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW NOW

BRIDGE DAMAGE

· The Fourth Avenue bridge has been closed indefinitely because of visible bowing.

BUILDING DAMAGE

· 19 Capitol Campus and other state buildings have been closed until they can be assessed.

· 13 buildings in Olympia have been evacuated and will remain closed pending structural evaluations.

· 14 buildings in Olympia have been yellow-tagged for a structural assessment. They can only be entered to secure offices or retrieve medicines.

ROAD CLOSURES

· Washington Street from Fifth to Legion

·Fifth Avenue from Capitol Way to Washington Street

· Deschutes Parkway, Lakeridge Drive to Fifth

· Martin Way limited to two lanes between Ensign and Lilly roads

· Northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101 north of state Route 8 were closed Wednesday night, but officials hope to have them open today. Call (800) 695-7623 or go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ traveler.

SCHOOL CLOSURES

· The Olympia, North Thurston and Tumwater schools will be closed today, as will The Evergreen State College. Saint Martin's College and South Puget Sound Community College will be open.

· The Olympia Center will be closed today and Friday.

WORKERS

· School district employees and state workers who work on the Capitol Campus have the day off, but Thurston County workers will work normal shifts today.

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