Washington State Earthquake History

Major earthquakes in Washington since 1880 (source: USGS)

On December 14, 1872, a strong earthquake in the Cascade Mountains caused damage at Victoria, British Columbia, and Seattle. It was felt over a very large area, about 390,000 square kilometers, extending as far south as Eugene, Oregon, and north into British Columbia, probably even into Alaska.

Walls were cracked (MM VI) at Blaine from a January 11, 1909, earthquake. Also, plaster was thrown down at Bellingham and sidewalks were reported cracked and piers were damaged at Anacortes. The felt area covered approximately 65,000 square km. Another shock occurred in the same region on January 23, 1920. The epicenter was probably under the Strait of Georgia. Windows were broken and brick walls were cracked (MM VII) at Anacortes and Bellingham; there was some damage to houses on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The crews of several vessels reported feeling the shock.

On July 15, 1936, a magnitude 5 3/4 earthquake was centered near the Washington State line between Walla Walla, Washington, and Milton, Oregon. The shock was strongest at Freewater, State Line, and Umapine, Oregon (MM VII). The ground was badly cracked, and there were marked changes in the flow of well water. One concrete residence collapsed at Umapine; in addition, many walls and chimneys were cracked. At Freewater, practically all the chimneys that had been built during the last 10 years were damaged at the roof level. Concrete pavements were cracked at State Line. The most damaging effects in Washington were at Waitsburg, where several chimneys fell and plaster cracked. Total damage amounted to about $100,000. The felt area covered about 272,000 square km, including most of Washington, Oregon, and northern Idaho.

Another shock of magnitude 5 3/4 originated near Olympia on November 12, 1939. A few fallen and twisted chimneys (MM VII), cracked concrete and plaster, and broken windows occurred throughout the epicentral area. The most noticeable damage was at Centralia, Elma, Oakville, and Oylmpia. Most of Washington and a portion of Oregon felt the tremor; it was also felt in some parts of British Columbia. The total U.S. area affected was about 155,000 square km.

Minor damage, such as cracked plaster and chimneys (MM VI - VII), was reported from North Bend, Palmer, and Stampede Pass following an earthquake on April 29, 1945. Slight damage occurred in a number of other towns in the area and there were large rock slides on the west face of Mount Si. Many reports described moderately loud to terrific explosion-like sounds accompanying the ground shaking. This earthquake was felt over the greater portion of Washington, a small section of western Idaho, and in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon, approximately 130,000 square km. A strong aftershock caused additional slight damage at North Bend about 10 hours later; another aftershock on May 1 was widely felt.

A shock, which reached a maximum intensity of VII at a number of places in the Puget Sound area was felt over about 182,000 square km, occurred on February 14, 1946. A few deaths were attributed indirectly to the shock; damage was estimated at $250,000, mostly in Seattle. Most of the reported damage was limited to cracked plaster and slight chimney failure, but there were a few cases of spectacular building damage in Seattle. The magnitude 5 3/4 tremor was also felt in southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Oregon.

One of the strongest earthquakes on record for the Puget Sound area followed a few months later. A magnitude 7.3 shock in the Strait of Georgia on June 23, 1946, caused the bottom of Deep Bay to sink between 2.7 and 25.6 meters. These measurements were reported by the Canadian Hydrographic Department. Also, a 3 meter ground shift occurred on Read Island. One person was drowned when a small boat was overturned by waves created by a nearby landslide. Waves were reported sweeping in from the sea, flooding fields and highways. Heavy damage occurred in the epicentral region. South of the Washington State boundary, some chimneys fell at Eastsound and on Orcas Island and a concrete mill was damaged at Port Angeles. Some damage occurred on upper floors of tall buildings in Seattle. The shock was strongly felt at Bellingham, Olympia, Raymond, and Tacoma. The total affected area in Canada and the United States was about 260,000 square km.

Property damage estimated at upwards of $25 million resulted from a magnitude 7.0 earthquake near Olympia on April 13, 1949. Eight deaths were caused either directly or indirectly, and many were injured. At Olympia, nearly all large buildings were damaged, and water and gas mains were broken. Heavy property damage was caused by falling parapet walls, toppled chimneys, and cracked walls (MM VIII). Electric and telegraphic services were interrupted. Railroad service into Olympia was suspended for several days; railroad bridges south of Tacoma were thrown out of line, delaying traffic for several hours. A large portion of a sandy spit jutting into Puget Sound north of Olympia disappeared during the earthquake. Near Tacoma, a tremendous rockslide involving an 0.8 km section of a 90 meter cliff toppled into Puget Sound. The felt area extended eastward to western Montana and southward to Cape Blanco, Oregon, covering about 400,000 square km in the United States. A large portion of western Canada also experienced the shock.

On November 5, 1962, a moderately strong earthquake caused minor damage in the Vancouver, Washington - Portland, Oregon, area. Numerous chimneys were cracked or shaken down (MM VII) in Portland. Several buildings had tile ceilings fall, and other damage such as cracked plaster and broken windows were reported. Slight damage was reported from several towns in Washington. The tremor was felt over an area of approximately 52,000 square km of Washington and Oregon. The magnitude was measured at 4 3/4.

A magnitude 6.5 shock on April 29, 1965, which was centered very close to the epicenter of the 1949 earthquake, caused about $12.5 million damage. Three persons were killed by falling debris, and the deaths of four elderly women from heart failure were attributed to the earthquake. There were numerous injuries, but most were minor.

The shock was characterized by a relatively large intensity VII area and small pockets of intensity VIII damage in Seattle and Issaquah. Extensive damage to chimneys was noted in West Seattle. In 188 city blocks, it was found that 1712 of 5005 chimneys were damaged. Two schools in West Seattle and two brick school buildings in Issaquah were damaged considerably. In general, damage patterns repeated those experienced during the 1949 shock. Buildings that apparently had been damaged in 1949 often sustained additional damage in 1965. The tremor was felt over 340,000 square km of Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, and part of British Columbia.

Most Recent Earthquakes (source: CREW)

A magnitude 5.3 earthquake hit Seattle on May 2, 1996. Information about this earthquake is available from the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network.

Another earthquake struck Western Washington on July 2, 1999. Information about this earthquake is available from EQE, a consulting company.

The most recent major earthquake, the Nisqually quake, was a magnitude 6.8 quake and struck near Olympia, WA on February 28, 2001.

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Sound Seismic7543 15th Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98117

Mary Ellen and I are both extremely pleased with the work that your crew did.  Please pass on my personal "thank you" to each of them. 

We were pleased with the amount of clean-up that was done at the end of each day. 

Even with your discovery of unforeseen conditions that necessitated additional framing, it was still done within a very reasonable time-frame.  My overall experience with Sound Seismic has been very positive and we will recommend your services to our circle of friends and family.

Again, thank you for a very "enjoyable" experience!

Mark and Mary Ellen Whitesell, Ballard, Seattle



I wish to praise SOUND SEISMIC for the earthquake retrofit they completed on my home. From the estimate to the finished job, Leif and his crew were professional, hard working, pleasant and exceptionally CLEAN. They handled the permit and inspections seamlessly. Office support from Elizabeth was equally professional, reliable and fast. I can't describe everything so I'll just say the whole experience was great.

Kristin Hill, Wallingford, Seattle



Sound Seismic was professional and they came when they said they were going to come. They came early and they called me to ask if it was okay to start the work earlier. They explained everything to me. It seemed like a reasonable price for the work because I had read other people’s descriptions on retrofitting on Angies list. The price seemed right in line with what I was expecting.
Sarah Morken


We recently had Sound Seismic do our earthquake retrofit. I cannot compliment enough the very professional job they did. Leif Jackson, the owner, sat with us for two hours answering questions and explaining how earthquakes work. He was completely above board, not promising more than he could deliver. He left interesting reading material so that we could evaluate and decide for ourselves. The most compelling was from FEMA warning people in the Puget Sound area to do everything they could to protect their homes because of our earthquake risk.

Once we were in contract, Leif sent our information to a structural engineer who drew up the plans. The bid was fair and complete. The crew showed up on the date the job started and completely it quickly. It looks great. Our new pony walls are gorgeous and the bolts and clamps very reassuring. City inspections were completed for the bolting and then for the finished job. This company is certified and high quality. Our house will be sticking around on the foundation. I encourage you to get over gambling about retrofitting and hire these guys. They are great.

Emily Elliott, Queen Anne


The crew kept me informed of their progress and plans all the time.  They told me what their plans were, and delivered every time.  Very satisfying knowing I could count on them doing what they promised - when they promised it!

Martin Muller, Olympic Manor, Seattle



My experience with Sound Seismic was very good. They were upfront about the work that needed to be done, about the cost and about the specific changes that would be required. In general, they had a high level of professionalism. They were on schedule, did a good job and cleaned up afterwards. They actually returned calls, which seems to be rare with contractors. I haven’t had other work of this sort done before. They did a really good job overall. They were very good about scheduling and estimates, and did quality work. They were one of the few providers in the area who would do the work - I thought the price was reasonable. I would use them again in the future.
Karl Bystrom


Sound Seismic was the most professional group of contractors/employees I have ever dealt with. They were knowledgable, dependable, and skilled. The project lead was obviously well trained and knew what he was doing, was able to effectively manage and direct his crew and subcontractors. A quality job. Discovered an area behind my walls were my house was not up to code. Worked well will me to correct the problem and professional and reasonable about the change order.
Andrew Austin, Phinney Ridge


The Sound Seismic crew arrived on time and got started on this structurally engineered and contracted job. It was estimated to take approximately one week to complete this work. The job was completed in 4 days with great professionalism and dedication to the work completed. The work passed a city inspection with no additional work required. The quality of work is excellent with great attention to detail.

Leon Young


Based in Ballard, the 2 man crew of Sound Seismic did a very clean, professional job of installing the earthquake retrofit. I was very happy with quality of the work and the way the crew kept the site clean and organized every day. They stick to a firm 8-hour work day for their employees and offer health benefits, a rarity in the contract world, it would seem. So their bid was not the lowest, however was comparable to a number of other firms, within 5-10%. Very punctual and professional in all coordination and in handling the 2 inspections reqd. by the city. No surprises or additional costs. I would recommend this contractor overall.

Jennifer Dovey, Broadview, Seattle



Sound Seismic did such a thorough job. Looking at their work lets me sleep better at night knowing my house is now very unlikely to shift off its foundations in an earthquake.

P. Kiraly, Madrona, Seattle



We thank you for the very professional work done by all of your people that we have had contact with.  The crew working here were outstanding, and we were charmed by your lead carpenter, Matt. 

Our basement has not been this clean in 70 years (the house is 70 years old)!

Thanks again,

the Pearsons

Bryant neighborhood, Seattle



We had a wonderful experience with Sound Seismic.  After the devastating earthquake in Japan my husband and I were quite worried about our 3 story brick home and decided to retrofit our basement as a way to ease our anxiety and protect our family.  

Sound Seismic's estimate was more reasonable than any of the others we got and we felt very confident knowing that Leif and his team have done many retrofits, including our friend's basement.  Leif was able to explain the process to me, answer my questions, and gave me the estimate within an hour of coming to the house.  

The hardest part of the process was moving our furniture and boxes out of the way to prepare the basement - after that things just moved along smoothly.  I had been expecting huge holes in the walls and dust everywhere but the work was really tidy and not nearly as disruptive as I had feared.  My kids and I were able to stay in the house the whole time, only playing out in the backyard a couple times when the banging was loud.  The baby was even able to take naps in the midst of the demolition!  

Matt was very professional and friendly, he always arrived on time and he communicated well, checking in with us at the end of each day to show us the progress of the work.  He was able to finish the work a half-day sooner than planned and there were no hidden costs or extra changes when the invoice arrived.  

I would highly recommend Sound Seismic to anyone -- they were fantastic!

Rachel Opel, Ballard, Seattle




Thanks for the great work on the house - you've done an outstanding job of prompt, low-impact work - and leaving the job site in excellent shape. Appreciate the attention to detail."


Wayne Dodge, Ravenna, Seattle


"I wanted to follow up and thank you for your good communication, strong planning and flexibility.

Your foreman was great. Very professional, low key, friendly and efficient."


Urs Koenig, Madrona, Seattle

They did an excellent job. The whole experience from start to finish was excellent. When they came out they told us what would need to be done, how it would be done and how much it would cost. We set a date and they came. They did the work exactly as they said they would. There were no surprises. The communication with the contractor throughout the process was excellent. The crewmember that came out to do the work did a fantastic job of cleanup afterwards. It was just excellent from start to finish. Because of the work they did we were able to get earthquake insurance, which we had not been able to qualify for previously. We would use them again and we would recommend them to any of our friends.
George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle

Sound Seismic gave a very competitive bid, clearly explained everything they were going to do, accomodated my schedule, and produced a very high quality outcome.  I highly recommend them.

Gary Johnson, Wallingford, Seattle



Dear Leif,

Your crew did a great job!  It was a pleasure to meet them. And as soon as I met your lead carpenter, I knew that everything would be done 'right.' 

They took extra care at every level: and left everything better than ever.  They were able to remove the siding without cutting it, which is great, too.

I am glad that I got to see how substantial the anchors, fasteners, etc. are - and how robustly the plywood panels are nailed in. ( It was hard for me to tell from the blueprints alone.)

I am very happy with all aspects of the plan and the work, Leif.  


David Rosenbaum, Sand Point, Seattle



All in all, we felt the project went extremely well.  Given the number of earthquakes worldwide of late, we are pleased to have had the work done.  We’d rather not have it tested, but we know we are in as good a position as possible if the ground starts shaking!

Barbara E., Capital Hill, Seattle



I wanted to let you know what a great job that your crew did on our earthquake retrofit.  They were very knowledgeable about the whole process and answered any questions we had without hesitation. Their work was excellent and they finished the job quickly.  I have done my share of remodeling in the past and I can say that they cleaned up after each day’s work more thoroughly than anyone I’ve ever encountered.  They took obvious pride in the retrofit work they did but also in the cleanup. They saw that as an integral part of the Sound Seismic service.  All in all, it was a fast and painless experience.


Thanks for assigning those fine young men to our job.


Paul Gustie, Fremont



Sound Seismic performed an engineered retrofit on our house built in 1928.  I've never had a better experience working with a contractor - thoroughly professional (truly experienced and knowledgeable in their craft), they were also excellent communicators throughout the engagement.  And the cleanup afterwards was amazing.  I would recommend them without reservation!

George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle



I wanted to thank you for the wonderful job you did retrofitting my home in South Seattle. I was aware that it would be a challenge and it proved to offer more problems than we expected. You met them all and did a great job correcting the rot and damage that happened over the years since 1927, when the house was built.


When I arrived home yesterday the basement was clean and organized. It was the first time I did not have to spend hours cleaning up after a contractor. Your lead carpenter and his assistant were a great team. Thanks for all your efforts.



Patrick Murphy, Mount Baker



I can't think of a single way you could improve the service of your company.  Yours is one of the VERY best companies I've worked with on this home.

Jeannie Macri, West Seattle



Sound Seismic completed a earthquake retrofit on our house. Their explanation about what to expect and what we'd get was clear and straightforward; the work was completed as described, as scheduled and exactly on time; clean-up: spotless.


Harriet B., Ballard



"The experience with Sound Seismic was possibly the finest I have had in my dealings with any of my trade contractors. Your crew was knowledgable, well informed, hard working, tidy, as well as a pleasure to have on my job."

Jesse Lee Honor, Project Manager, Northwest Homecrafters



Thank you very much for your excellent work on retrofitting our house.  We appreciated your careful oversight of the project, ongoing contact with the engineering firm, attention to detail, and clean and timely work.  You really rose to the challenges presented by "this old house."

Mike E., Capital Hill, Seattle



Sound Seismic exhibited a great combination of skill, hard work, and professionalism.  You treated our home and our project as though you were doing it on your own house.

Linda and Rick T. Kirkland, WA



Everything looks good. Thanks for the all the work your guys did, very professional.


Stuart Jamieson, Montlake



Sound Seismic did an excellent job of the seismic retrofit on my two-story house, which entailed quite a lot of siding work as I don't have a basement. The workmen were punctual, neat and meticulous. I feel safer because of their work.

Pippa Kiraly., Madrona



Just wanted to send you a note to express how pleased we are with the work your firm recently completed.  You did exactly what you said you would and the quality of the work is first rate.  Also, please tell Matt how much we enjoyed him.  Thanks,

Gary Johnson, Wallingford



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