Earthquake rattles Western Washington on April 29, 1965.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 3/02/2000
  • Essay 1986
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On the morning of April 29, 1965 at 8:29 a.m. Pacific Daylight Saving Time, 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 (approximately $65,000,000 in 1999), 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.

Mercalli Intensity Level VIII

Damage was considerable to well-built structures and extensive to poorly built ones with some buildings collapsing. Chimneys, factory stacks, columns, and monuments fell. Heavy furniture overturned. People had difficulty driving.

Seattle: Intensity VIII pockets of shaking occurred in Seattle at West Seattle, Harbor Island, and South Seattle. The earthquake caused four deaths and 30 injuries serious enough for treatment at hospitals. See Intensity VII below for details of buildings and structures damaged.

Issaquah: During the earthquake there were loud earth noises. A brick garage partially collapsed and both junior high schools received major damage, daylight seen through some of the long jagged cracks in the walls. Concrete sidewalks were broken in places and chimney damage was prevalent. Much of the state liquor store stock was destroyed.

Mercalli Intensity VII

The following areas of King County have similar intensity of ground shaking and damage. Loud earth noises were heard seconds before the quake struck that lasted about one minute. It was felt by all, many were frightened, and people quickly exited shaking buildings. Automobile drivers noticed the quake. Damage was slight to moderate to well-built structures and considerable to poorly built or badly designed buildings. Some damage to brick and concrete buildings. Some chimneys cracked, broke, and fell. Building walls and windows cracked. Trees and bushes shook back and forth from moderate to strongly. Also books, knickknacks, vases, dishes and glassware fell and some broke, hanging pictures swung and fell, furniture moved.

The following towns received Intensity VII damage:

Auburn, Black Diamond, Carnation, Cumberland, Des Moines, Dockton, Duvall, Enumclaw, Grotto, Hobart, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Maple Valley, North Bend, Pacific, Palmer, Portage, Preston, Ravensdale, Renton, Seattle (both Intensity VII and VIII), Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Falls, and Vashon Island.

Auburn: Earthquake lasted for about 10 seconds. Everyone felt and many still asleep were shaken awake. A few chimneys were damaged and fell. At Auburn schools, plaster fell from ceilings and schools were closed while damage was assessed. East of Auburn along Lake Holm Road slides were reported.

Black Diamond: Loud "earth noises" heard seconds before shock which lasted 45 seconds. Trees and bushes shook strongly, and furniture overturned and broke. Chimneys twisted and cracked, dishes and windows broke, plaster cracked.

Carnation: Loud earth noises heard just before quake struck that lasted one minute. Hanging lights and other objects swung north and south.

Cumberland: Earthquake that lasted about one minute and ground cracked.

Duvall: One chimney fell.

Grotto: Furniture shifted including a piano. Pendulum clock, facing south, stopped.

Hobart: Earthquake lasted 45 seconds.

Kenmore: Earthquake lasts 45 seconds. Chimneys, columns, and monuments fell and ground cracked.

Kent: Bricks fell off the old Armory onto parked cars, no injuries. A water main broke and several wires on telephone poles snapped.

Kirkland: Quake lasts about 30 seconds.

Maple Valley: At the nearby South Road District, shops for the water system, electrical shop, and service station suffered damage estimated at $10,000 or more. Along Jones Road and Devils Elbow Road there were slides.

North Bend: Most of the liquor bottles at State Liquor Store fell and broke. There was an extensive slide on the southwest slope of Mount Si near North Bend.

Pacific: The earthquake lasted for two and one-half minutes, much longer than most places in the county.

Palmer: Earthquake lasted 30 seconds.

Preston: Earthquake lasted 45 seconds. Reported that "Shock began with several seconds of vibration in north-south direction, rapidly increasing in speed and intensity; then followed heavy shocks of undulating and rocking motion, accompanied by earth noises. Rocking continued for several seconds after rumblings ceased."

Ravensdale: Quake lasted 30 seconds.

Renton: Duration was 45 to 50 seconds. The Boeing Aircraft Plant had damage to floors that pulled away from the foundation piling; interior concrete blocks cracked; fluorescent light fixtures and acoustical ceiling tiles fell down. At the Pacific Car and Foundry, a large boiler broke.

Seattle: Three people die from falling debris, one person dies of a heart attack, and 30 injuries are treated in Seattle area hospitals.

Worst damage

The worst damage was in West Seattle, Harbor Island, Duwamish River Industrial Area, and South Seattle. At Rainier Brewing Company two 2,000 gallon brewing tanks fell off foundation, one full of brewing beer spilled over floor. Numerous bridges were damaged along the Duwamish Waterway and River blocking boat traffic along the river. Virtually every building, pier, and facility at Harbor Island and along the Seattle waterfront were damaged. On Harbor Island, at the 15 story Fisher Flouring Mills, owned by the Fisher family, who also owned KOMO Radio, a 50,000 gallon wooden tank fell seven stories from the top of the building and crashed and dumped water into a grain bin and brick walls broke away from sixth floor. At Carkeek Park in northwest Seattle, the quake caused a landslide that opened an underground stream that eroded away more land and broke a water main. In West Seattle a survey was made of damaged chimneys. In a portion of West Seattle out of a total of 5,005 chimneys in 188 city blocks, the earthquake damaged 1,712 chimneys (34 percent of the chimneys). At Alki Beach, a part of West Seattle not surveyed, "virtually every chimney was down" (U.S. Earthquakes 1965 p 98).

Downtown Seattle and Pioneer Square

A women sleeping in the penthouse of the Smith Tower was thrown out of her bed. Pioneer Square buildings suffered a great deal of damage and fallen bricks littered its sidewalks. At the Union Pacific Railroad Station (southeast corner of 4th Avenue S and S Jackson Street) a part of the cornice broke away and crashed through the sidewalk, the third floor sagged, and walls and ceilings cracked. The station was evacuated, naturally. There was extensive damage to the upper floors of the 10 story Federal Office Building located in downtown on the west side of 1st Avenue. Employees above the third floor were sent home while damage was assessed. During the quake, employees at Frederick & Nelson Department Store heard the store and adjacent Medical Dental Building come together "with a loud clap" but otherwise the store had minor damage with cracked walls and some fallen mannequins. At the nearby Bon Marche the plaster walls were damaged and chinaware dishes were apparently wiped out. A 20 inch water main that ran along Western Avenue at Spring Street broke four days after the earthquake.

Seattle Schools are damaged

West Alki School suffered the most damage of any Seattle Public School; the 60-foot high stack fell onto the boiler room, stairs shifted, and north wall of a new wing pulled away from the building. Franklin High School had damage to portions of all four corner cornices that fell, lunchroom ceiling cracked, stairwells shifted, in addition to the school fire alarms that short circuited and could not be turned off. Other schools damaged; Ballard High School (auditorium), Broadview Elementary School (east brick wall of a building fell), Colman Elementary School (front wall, masonry gables at entrance and chimney), Gatewood Elementary School and Leschi Elementary School (gables fell), Madison Junior High School (chimney collapsed and masonry fell at school entrance), Queen Anne High School (walls cracked), West Seattle High School (severe cracking of walls through school), and Whittier Elementary School (structural damage). Eight of the schools with an enrollment of 8,800 were forced to close until thorough inspections were made.

At the University of Washington, the tops of 60 foot high trees swayed three to four feet. At the lower UW football field the ground opened up and sand spurted out along a zigzagging 100-foot long stretch. Near the Men's Pool the ground dropped about one foot.

North Seattle damage

The shaking caused water in Green Lake to slosh back and forth and zigzag fissures opened in the ground surrounding the lake. A concrete wall collapsed at the crew rowing house next to the Aqua Theater, possibly wrecking it beyond repair. At the lower Woodland baseball field, due to a watermain break, water spouted up 15 feet. At the old Ballard City Hall (Ballard Avenue NW and 22 Avenue NW) bricks fell off the building onto the sidewalk. At Art's Food Center at 9999 Holman Road NW, the building had gaping holes in four concrete walls and tons of merchandise fell off shelves.

Other areas of the city

It was reported that the two-story Seattle Times Building on Fairview Avenue E shook "like an electric vibrator" and the plaster dust forced the teletype printers to stop work. At the Providence Hospital two doctors were trapped in an elevator that dropped three floors during the quake. The surgery department on the sixth floor was forced to close operating rooms for a couple of hours, also due to plaster dust. Chandeliers at the St. James Cathedral "swayed violently" and as a priest made a hasty departure from the sanctuary he was showered by debris.

City Survey

The City of Seattle surveyed 1,405 buildings for earthquake damage. Of those 454 buildings (32%) suffered damage, including 91 buildings with serious or extensive damage, 113 with moderate damage, and 250 with minor or superficial damage like cracked plaster, missing chimney bricks, etc.

Skykomish: Quake lasted 30-45 seconds.

Snoqualmie: Quake lasted 30 seconds.

Snoqualmie Falls: Mail fell out of town post office boxes. The earthquake was described as "like being on a small boat on choppy water." Many chimneys down.

Vashon Island: Quake lasted about 30 seconds. Southern and western sections of island suffered most damage. Portion of Burton-Tahlequah Road settled. Merchandise stock thrown from shelves.

Mercalli Intensity VI

All residents feel ground shaking with many are frightened and run out of buildings. Heavy furniture moves. Damage includes hanging objects swinging, some small objects fall, and some damage to chimneys. Structural damages to buildings slight.

The following towns received Intensity VI damage:

Algona, Baring, Bellevue, Bothell, Burien, Burton, Fall City, Lester, Medina, Mercer Island, Midway, Portage, Redmond, Redondo, Richmond Beach, Seattle Heights, Selleck, Stevens Pass (Mount Persis region), Tukwila, Woodinville, Zenith.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995); Carl A. Von Hake and William K. Cloud, United States Earthquakes, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), 32-51; The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network website (; "The Puget Lowland Earthquakes of 1949 and 1965," ed. by Gerald W. Thorsen (Olympia: Washington State Department of Natural Resources, 1986), 40.
Note: This essay was corrected on April 16, 2011, to reflect the correct time of the 1965 earthquake and to supplement the sources used, and again on May 5, 2011, to correct the location of Carkeek Park.

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