Byline: Kristi Ellis / Kristin Young

LOS ANGELES — An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale rattled the Seattle area for about 30 seconds on Wednesday, shutting downtown businesses, closing the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and stranding at least 30 people temporarily atop the city’s landmark Space Needle.
The quake, widely compared to the San Francisco temblor of 1989, shattered windows, knocked chunks of masonry from skyscrapers and forced evacuations and business closures at Escada, Levi Strauss & Co. and several other apparel retailers and manufacturers.
The quake was felt as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia, and as far south as Portland, Ore. It hit at about 10:55 a.m. with an epicenter located about 30 miles southwest of Seattle near Olympia, Washington State’s capital. The shaker caused three serious injuries from falling debris and at least a dozen more minor injuries. No deaths were reported as of press time.
“An earthquake this size is capable of causing a lot of damage,” said Susan Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. “This one was 30 miles deep and well under the ground so it was less damaging.”
The quake cut electricity to businesses, disrupted phone lines and ignited at least one transformer fire.
Thousands of people were evacuated from the downtown area and several businesses are expected to be closed at least until midday today.
“This was clearly the biggest quake to hit Seattle in some years and initially shook up many employees and customers,” said Brooke White, a Nordstrom spokeswoman, noting the Seattle flagship sustained very little damage. “Our stores by and large are built with seismic bracing so while we rocked and rolled a bit, our buildings here did their jobs and we rode the quake out.”
While retailers and manufacturers interviewed by WWD reported no employee injuries and only minimal structural damage, some reported loss of inventory.
Two full-line Nordstrom units, one in south and another in north Seattle, reported ceiling tiles falling, interior glass breakage and surface cracks in interior walls. Several chunks of terra-cotta tiles at the downtown flagship fell to the street and shattered. The store remained open for business, according to a spokeswoman.
As of press time, Nordstrom said structural engineers were at the sites assessing monetary and physical damages.
Others didn’t fare as well. Levi Strauss & Co. reported the stock room at its 9,000-square-foot store in downtown Seattle was flooded by a broken water main near the store, according to a spokesman. The store remained closed at press time, and will remain shuttered until further inspection.
Some 400 workers were sent home from Seattle Pacific Industries’ warehouse in Kent, Wash., as well as its design offices in North Seattle.
The maker of Union Bay and Sergio Valente maintained a skeletal crew to oversee operations. “We are essentially out of business when something like this happens,” said Connie Maynard, vice president of sales for the company’s junior division in New York.
Meanwhile, a spokesman from The Galleries of Neiman Marcus said a Seattle unit in the Westlake Center mall suffered minimal damage and lost inventory primarily in the crystal and china departments. The store, which closed Wednesday, is expected to reopen today.
“We feel that we fared pretty well,” said Tim Braun, director of stores for the jewelry and gift division. “No one was injured. Inventory can be replaced but people can’t.”
Nike Inc., which felt the quake at its headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., reported it was forced to close its 24,000- square-foot, two-story Seattle store due to power interruptions, according to spokeswoman Leslye Mundy.
“With respect to natural disasters, we have a global disaster and recovery plan because we have retail outlets around the globe,” she said. “It involves ensuring the safety of employees and customers first and in this case…there was no harm or danger to them.”
Stores near Pioneer Square, an older, picturesque area home to several luxury stores, suffered superficial damage, according to an Escada official. Building bricks piled up on sidewalks.
“The shoes came off the shelf but other than that, we are OK,” said Amy Rosi, a New York-based spokeswoman who was contact by the Seattle flagship in Pioneer Square following the quake. “There is a lot of debris, but it looks worse than it is.”
Initial reports from the Louis Vuitton store indicated employees were safe and the store itself suffered no damage. But it is closed until further notice and inspection, according to representatives at the Los Angeles unit who communicated with their Northern counterpart via e-mail Wednesday.
Four Gap Inc. stores, all located downtown, were left without power and evacuated, reported a company spokesman. Units affected included one Old Navy store and three Gap stores.
“Some merchandise was knocked to the floor but otherwise there was no significant damage,” said spokesman Alan Marks.
A Bon Marche store, which just completed a $10-million renovation last year with street front windows, crystal chandeliers and skylights, appeared untouched, according to a spokeswoman from Federated Department Stores, the retailer’s parent company.