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Earthquake Rocks Kingdome, Suspending Game

May 3, 1996

SEATTLE (AP) _ A moderate earthquake rattled the Kingdome during Thursday night’s game between the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, causing umpires to suspend the game in the seventh inning.

The geophysics center at the University of Washington reported the preliminary magnitude of the quake at 4.8. There were no immediate reports of major damage.

``I thought I was having a dizzy spell,″ said Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr., in the Mariners’ clubhouse when the quake struck. ``I’ve been in an earthquake before in California. It threw me off the bed. It was a big one and I don’t like it.″

There were reports the quake was felt as far away as 180 miles from Seattle.

A preliminary inspection showed no visible damage to the 20-year-old Kingdome, said Frank Abe, a spokesman for County Executive Gary Locke.

``This is actually a small, moderate earthquake but on the low end of that scale,″ said Bill Steele, a seismologist with the University of Washington Geophysics Center. ``But it is at the threshold point where you begin to see damage. The extent of the damage will be nonstructural damage.″

The Indians and the Mariners left the field after the 30 seconds of shaking at 9:04 p.m. PDT. Eight minutes later, it was announced the game had been suspended until 5:35 p.m. Friday.

``In my mind there was no doubt,″ home plate umpire Jim McKeon said. ``I really didn’t feel we should play because I don’t think baseball is as important as as many lives as we had in here.″

Speakers overhanging the field swayed in the Kingdome, as did the press box. Cleveland was leading 6-3 at the time of the quake.

``The roof could come down here. It’s a pretty life-threatening situation,″ Mariners pitcher Sterling Hitchcock said.

The Kingdome crowd of 21,711 began chanting ``Let’s play ball! Let’s play ball!″ about three minutes after the earthquake. Players looked warily up into the stands.

``I thought first the crowd was going nuts,″ Hitchcock said. ``Then I realized there weren’t enough people in here to go that nuts. It kind of clicked in then. But I didn’t think they had earthquakes up this far.″

It was the first time a major league game was disrupted by an earthquake since Oct. 17, 1989. A 7.1 temblor hit San Francisco about 30 minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 between Oakland and the Giants at Candlestick Park. The quake caused major damage and the Series didn’t resume until Oct. 27.

The Kingdome’s capability to withstand an earthquake had become a prominent issue over the last few months when the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks appeared on the verge of moving to Southern California.

Owner Ken Behring has contended the stadium is not a ``first-class facility.″ He said one of its shortcomings was its inability to handle an earthquake, a contention disputed by King County officials.

Ironically, Behring was planning to move the team to Southern California, the nation’s most seismically active area. Paul Allen, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, is now trying to buy the Seahawks and keep the team in Seattle.

On July 19, 1994, ceiling tiles fell from the Kingdome roof, causing extensive damage and forcing the Mariners on the road for their final 20 games.

``I thought the tiles were coming down again,″ Seattle’s Paul Sorrento said. ``I didn’t know what was going on. It was weird. I guess the bench was moving pretty good.″

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