Washington lawmakers face quake aftermath on top of budget woes

Saturday, March 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ Lawmakers already grappling with major financial headaches, including a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions, now have a larger problem: finding funds to repair damage from this week's 6.8-magnitude earthquake.

Preliminary estimates peg the quake's damage at $2 billion, but Gov. Gary Locke and lawmakers are unsure what the state's cost will be. Besides the shortfall, lawmakers are stymied by a state spending limit and the need to make $10 billion in highway improvements.

``We don't know the cost to the state, except that it will be in the millions of dollars,'' budget office spokesman Hal Spencer said. ``We don't know how much aid we will get from Uncle Sam at this point.''

Lawmakers first need to find a place to work.

The quake left two visible cracks in the heavy sandstone Capitol dome, and all 20 office buildings in the Capitol complex remained closed Friday for inspection and cleanup. All but the Capitol itself have now been cleared for occupancy.

Legislators plan to hold some hearings next week in buildings a block away from the Capitol. Engineers were expected to spend the weekend determining when it will be safe to use the 1928 building.

Some of western Washington's worst damage was in Olympia, 11 miles from the epicenter of Wednesday's quake. Piles of rubble still blocked downtown sidewalks Friday, and major buildings remained shuttered and buckled roads were blocked off.

The earthquake _ its impact minimized by its depth 33 miles below the Earth's surface _ was roughly equivalent to a 5.8-magnitude ``California-style'' quake, said Steve Kramer, a University of Washington civil engineering professor. California quakes tend to occur closer to the surface, he said.

The injury tally climbed to 410 by Friday, but most were minor.

Curtis Johnny Sr., 48, found a bright side to the serious back injury he suffered when a chimney fell on him in his Seattle apartment.

``I was lucky, considering what fell on me,'' Johnny said at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. ``It makes you realize how precious life is.''

The Bush administration has declared six counties _ King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce and Thurston _ federal disaster areas, clearing the way for government money to help with the recovery effort.

The earthquake left relatively few people homeless. In Seattle, there were 21 uninhabitable buildings _ a few of them apartment buildings.

And some people were dislocated by concerns about landslides on quake-weakened hillsides, though scientists say this year's dry weather helped limit that risk.

Despite the quake's damage, Scott Reardean, 40, hoped to return to his rented house in Burien, with its view of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.

``If they can shore it back up, I'm not afraid to live there,'' he said.