Historic Earthquakes

Puget Sound area, Washington
1949 04 13 19:55:42 UTC,
Magnitude 7.1
Intensity VIII

The epicenter lies between Olympia and Tacoma, along the southern edge of Puget Sound. Property damage in Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma was estimated at $25 million; eight people were killed; and many were injured. Several structures were condemned, including two schools and a church at Centralia, south of Olympia; a junior high school at Auburn, northeast of Tacoma; and a library at Chehalis, near Centralia. School buildings in widely separated towns were damaged seriously. Water spouted from cracks that formed in the ground at Centralia, Longview, and Seattle. One new spring developed on a farm at Forest. Downed chimneys and walls were reported from towns throughout the area.

At Olympia, almost all large buildings were damaged to some extent, including eight structures on the Capitol grounds. Many chimneys and two large smokestacks fell. Public utilities sustained serious damage - water and gas mains were broken, and electric and telegraph services were interrupted.

At Seattle, houses on filled ground were demolished, many old brick buildings were damaged, and chimneys toppled. One wooden water tank and the top of a radio tower collapsed.

About 50 kilometers northeast of Olympia, at Tacoma, many chimneys were knocked to the ground and many buildings were damaged. Near Tacoma, a huge section of a 73 meter cliff toppled into Puget Sound shortly after the earthquake; south of Tacoma, railroad bridges were thrown out of alignment. A 23-ton cable saddle was thrown from the top of the Tacoma Narrows bridge tower, causing considerable damage. Also felt in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and in British Columbia, Canada. Only one small aftershock occurred during the next six months.

Abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.