Damage to Utilities and Transportation Exact a Toll

When the earthquake hit, everyone knew that the damage that was sustained was going to be massive and require a lot of cooperation and strengthen to begin rebuilding. The only way is to being the process of picking up the small pieces and putting them back together in order to fit the bigger image.  The buildings in the Seattle area took a lot of damage from the shaking but it was subsequently the smaller things we tend not to think about at first that create an even bigger problem. First off, the utilities and services that the City provides would be interrupted for week’s maybe months depending on the amount of damage and how quickly the City can organize and react to the following event. A huge impact following the earthquake was the trouble and damage that was sustained by transportation infrastructure.

This story is a work of fiction, including all names and quotes, written by WWU DRR students for public education purposes. Site design by Dr. Scott Miles.

The utilities in the city were greatly disrupted due to the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Seattle. The damage was extensive to multiple different services that are generally looked at as being readily available. This includes things such as water, electricity, gas, sewage lines and garbage. The water lines would be hit the heaviest for a number of different reasons. The first problem is that the water lines are made out of wood, which is very outdated material to be using for a city’s main waterlines. But with the peak ground acceleration being that fast and the type of soil they entered the lines into, the damage greatly affected thelines.  According the King Counties Hazard Mitigation Plan the estimated damage to water supply would have 100 slightly damaged, 178 moderate damage, 49 extensive damage and 5 facilities completely destroyed. Liquefaction had also started to occur, especially in the Duwamish area. This is a fear that has been voiced by a lot of residents in the Greater Seattle Area because now, there is a high chance that with broken water lines and liquefaction, water lines could be very easily contaminated by the toxins from industries.

“I am deeply concerned with the potential risk of my water being filled with toxins. But at the same time I want to have my services replaced as fast as possible”, Seattle resident Deborah Eads said.

The same sort of reaction also happened with sewage lines and wastewater facilities. Under immense pressure from the ground shaking so violently, they ended up rupturing the wastewater lines. Releasing fecal matter all over the roads, into already damaged waterlines and other unwanted areas. The fear Deborah stated about waterlines being contaminated is the same fear residents had about wastewater lines being broken. One other utility that really got affected was the gas lines that run into and out of buildings. These gas lines ruptured which caused a huge explosion that spread from one building to the next. How close in proximity these buildings are in the city helped the fire be able spread and jump for building to building. There was a mix of types of buildings that were effected but most of them were residential and commercial. The snowball effect of these buildings being burned is enormous.  Families had to be displaced and businesses were not able to run anymore.

“All I heard was the tremendous boom that hit me in the face like a punch. At first I thought a plane had crash landed, but later did I find out that the natural gas line had been damaged”, homeowner Jack Robinson said.

Luckily Jack’s home somehow dodged the flames but unfortunately his business wasn’t able to.

“After such a traumatizing event, all I hoped for was that my business made it out alive. But the fires had spread so much that there wasn’t even a chance for it survive”, Robinson said.

There were many different ruptures on these lines causing many localized fires that became a huge danger to the community and its members.

The built environment was really no match for the powers of the natural environment that were proven by the earthquake. The roads, bridges, overpasses and ports  all sustained damage. Some won’t be able to be fixed, instead just lay in piles of rubble. First off all the previous matters stated earlier from the utilities section adversely affected transportation as well. A lot of those major water, gas and wastewater lines run under and follow the roadway system. So when the pipes ruptured, there was significant damage to the roadways too. One issue that caused a lot of destruction was the fact that a lot of major roadways and transportation were built on liquefiable land. The Port of Seattle was violently rattled so much that large chunks of port land were cascading into the ocean. With the ground being so unstable, large soil shifts continued to break the seawall down further.

“The port has provided this area with a very large and expansive employment number and losing those jobs and businesses would be a huge blow to the economy and overall feel of Seattle,” said Port worker John Miles.

Cranes and shipping containers were tossed about at random on the port facilities, causing even more damage to the ground and equipment. The ferry routes leaving the ports were canceled due to damage sustained by the sea wall, causing a lot of people to be trapped in the inner city though they live elsewhere. The shaking caused many landslides in the region where there was a lot of loose unconsolidated land. The trains that run in and out of Seattle had to be canceled and stopped because of the damage to the rails or material from the landslides depositing on top of them.

“A large landslide in Mulilteo had shut down passenger trains between Seattle and Everett just a year before, so we all knew that cliffs and hills in the area could be vulnerable”, said Seattle citizen Barry Bonds. “Unfortunately not much was done about the problem before the quake hit.”

A lot of the major freeways in the area had been forced to shut down due to damage as well as a precautionary measurement taken by the city. A lot of the major roadways in Seattle were subject to liquefaction and caused cracking and major disruptions in the roadway system. These disruptions in the roadway system have created certain areas that are impossible to get to with anything motorized. This Made it very challenging for emergency relief workers to get in and do their jobs. A good amount of the bridges had been damaged from the shaking. King County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan for the Seattle fault scenario says that 67 bridges have been completely destroyed and 5 with extensive damage. On the Department of Transportation for the State of Washington, they have information on structurally deficient bridges, on that list are 16 bridges in King County. There has been word that there was 3 oil tankers on the Homer Ed Hadley Bridge when it collapsed from the shaking. This has cause two of the tanker trucks to be deposited into Elliot bay. This resulted in the release of about 400 barrels of crude oil into the sound. The impacts of this oil in the water are severe and last longer than a lot of any of us would know, but especially negative biological impacts that can be felt for decades after.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is a special piece of Seattle and to the downtown overall. Very outdated and unsafe building practices have caused the Alaskan Way Viaduct to become extremely vulnerable. When the earthquake hit, the viaduct started swaying rather quickly back and forth. As the swaying intensified and became more powerful, all of a sudden the upper portion of the viaduct collapsed onto the lower portion. This sort of reaction happened in various segments of the viaduct but in other segments both the upper and the lower levels collapsed coming down to street level.

“I heard a crack that sounded like a lightning strike”, said Seattle Commuter Rosy Cheeks. “But then out of nowhere, the ground gave out from underneath me and I was free falling. Thank the Lord I was on the upper level or else I would have ended up as a statistic.”

Many were part of that statistic Rosy was fearing, because the earthquake hit at 5:00 pm when the traffic flow was extremely heavy. Many people were crushed and killed in their cars as well as people who were on the ground level that got hit with falling debris or the viaduct itself.

“Seeing people trying to free themselves from their cars that were crushed to about a foot and a half was extremely painful to watch. I have never seen anything like this before and I hope I will never have to again” Emergency response worker Brian Copeland said.

The viaduct collapse was reminiscent of the Loma Prieta quake that occurred in 1989 in Northern California. Many buildings had damage, and many fires were started from ruptured lines. But the most impactful moment came when the quake caused the Cypress Viaduct in West Oakland to collapse. A 2 kilometer section of the viaduct came down upon the first layer, resulting in 42 fatalities. Cars on the top layer were tossed around violently and some were flipped sideways resulting in further injuries.

With all this destruction can bring a great new chance for the city to build back smarter and stronger through the studying of what went wrong and why. With this, the City of Seattle will be able to conquer the next big event that comes their way with little or no trouble at all. With retrofits to bridges and overpasses, with a smart grid layout and retrofitted lifelines such as gas, water and sewerage, most of these problems could have been avoided or prevented.