Quake Breaks the Quiet, a First-Person Account

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SEATTLE -- This writer, fresh out of a session at the net.marketing show, was in the conference's pressroom when Wednesday's quake jostled the city. The Washington State Convention and Trade Center, still under construction, shook like a leaf when the 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit.


It took little time for people to realize what was happening. The next few seconds were chaotic. Those of us in the pressroom dashed for the doors, watching plaster tiles fall from the ceiling. Dust from the dislodged plaster sprinkled all over. Someone shouted, "Stand next to the column." Just at that moment, a plaster tile struck him on the head.


The only thought in our minds was to head for the door frame, which is recommended as a safe bet indoors when quakes hit. When the glass and steel structure continued to quiver, everyone headed for the exits. Though the escalators had stopped working, it took less than a minute to make it outside. Hundreds of people were streaming out, trembling and flushed.


"See, you can build a big building, but you can't control what it sits on," said a visibly excited Bob Kweller of MyPoints.com Inc., San Francisco.


Within no time, the building was cleared of its occupants, from session attendees to exhibitors. Many did not have the time or presence of mind to don jackets for the nippy Seattle air. That was quickly corrected when the coats that had been checked in were brought out on their racks.


Once outside, cell phones were quickly whipped out and people started dialing furiously. Many initially had patchy luck getting through because of the call traffic generated right after the disaster. Those not on the phone were exchanging stories of where they were when the quake struck. Some speakers found the podiums giving way. Exhibitors were busy tending to their booths.


To give credit, the Direct Marketing Association quickly swung into action once safety engineers and the building authorities said it was OK to allow a few people inside. One person per exhibition booth was allowed to carry out important belongings.


DMA vice president Michael Faulkner then announced what was a foregone conclusion: The show was over.


As expected, the quake has thrown a monkey wrench in many travelers' plans. Show attendees have had to reschedule flights, hotel stays and appointments.


Interestingly, this writer is filing the story Wednesday evening from a Kinko's that is part of the same convention center that hosted the DMA show. It is business as usual here, though the DMA show area wears a deserted look, with debris, the odd direct marketing material and a few stragglers packing boxes.


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