SEATTLE — Marketers at this week's net.marketing show were rattled but not hurt after an earthquake rocked the area for 40 seconds. Direct Marketing Association officials immediately canceled the rest of the exhibition.
The DMA reported that there were no injuries, though there were eyewitness accounts that one person was hit with a piece of falling debris.
Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL, said he was giving a session on e-mail marketing when the quake hit.
“The whole room started shaking. Pieces of the ceiling were falling,” he said. “We all started running for the doors. One guy in front of me got hit in the head with some falling tile and was bleeding.”
There was minimal damage to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, including broken plaster, fallen tiles and small cracks in some of the walls, but attendees and exhibitors were allowed back in once inspectors said the building was safe.
“I was surprised when I walked into the exhibit hall afterward. I looked around and everything still looked fine,” said Christina Duffney, a DMA public relations representative who was in the DMA's pressroom when the quake hit. “There was just a bit of debris that had fallen.”
Exhibitor Scott Pannier, manager of business development at GetRelevant, San Francisco, said he had been through several quakes, so this one did not shock him.
“I was talking to a prospect at Radical Communications [in the exhibit area] and I looked at the Aptimus structure, which was swaying, and figured it was a pretty good [quake],” Pannier said. “I just walked to the door. People pushed me out of the way.”
Once it became clear that no one was seriously hurt, many attendees saw the quake as an excuse to leave a poorly attended show early.
“Not to be critical, but people were saying, 'Wow, at least the conference is over,' ” Pannier said.
Craig Kummer, vice president of marketing at Comdisco, Chicago, was in a session when the quake hit.
“It was pretty scary,” Kummer said. “Actually, the speaker was very good. I remember him saying, 'Oh, my gosh. We're in Seattle, Washington, and we're having an earthquake.' Everybody handled it very well.”
Doug Campbell, marketing coordinator at Return Path, New York, described the experience as surreal.
“I didn't realize what was going on. It was the worst quake I was in,” he said. “I was puzzled. There was a bang, and I just didn't know what to do.”
Many attendees decided to make the best of the situation and headed back to their hotel bars, using the quake as an excuse to start drinking early. By Thursday morning, the exhibit hall had been cleaned out, said DMA spokeswoman Amy Blankenship.
“Any type of convention center has procedures in place for dealing with emergencies,” she said. “Our understanding is that the evacuation went very smoothly.”
Monitors said the quake hit at 10:54 a.m. PST with a magnitude of 6.8. It was centered 35 miles southwest of Seattle and was felt in Salt Lake City, 700 miles away. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, causing havoc for many marketers trying to leave the area Wednesday and Thursday.
About 215 people were treated for injuries; eight were considered serious, according to wire reports. A person who died of a heart attack was attributed to the quake. Officials said property damage would easily run into the billions of dollars.