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Earthquake puts Oregon legislators in cellar.

Yellow "crime scene" tape sealed the front doors of Oregon's Capitol--but it's difficult to handcuff Mother Nature for malicious mischief resulting in substantial property damage.

The 55-year-old Capitol was rocked by an earthquake, magnitude 5.7 on the Richter scale, March 25. As a result, the cracked rotunda was sealed off, and House and Senate members were relegated to crowded hearing rooms in the basement for floor debate.

The older portions of the Capitol, built in 1937 to replace structures destroyed by fire, were closed after the temblor. Newer sections completed in 1976, including legislative offices and hearing rooms, were undamaged and remained open.

House Speaker Larry Campbell vowed to keep the session on track, despite a small fire two days before the earthquake that forced evacuation of the building for a few hours. Campbell said after the quake that the House would meet "even if we find ourselves out in the yard doing roll call."

He shifted the session to a hearing room in the Capitol basement. With lawmakers squeezed into cramped quarters and little room for an audience, lobbyists and the public were able to observe the session only via closed-circuit TV. Senate proceedings were also moved to a hearing room.

Legislators were allowed to go back to their chambers April 2 after workers hung nets to catch falling concrete. Engineers inspecting the building after the earthquake found cracks in the concrete-and-steel beams supporting the Capitol roof.

Workers also injected epoxy into the base of the Golden Pioneer that tops the rotunda. The 23-foot, 10-ton statue was rocked free and twisted an eight-inch to the east by the earthquake.

Though the legislative session is back to normal, the rotunda will be closed for several months, according to Bill Leach, head of Capitol facility services.

Leach said that if the 45-second earthquake had lasted eight to 10 seconds longer, the Capitol dome could have collapsed.

Three years ago, the Oregon Legislative Assembly commissioned a study on what it would take to make the Capitol earthquake-proof. However, legislators have not been able to come up with the estimated $27 million for the project.

The March temblor was the third strongest earthquake recorded in Oregon. Geologists predict it will not be the last--there is a one in five chance of a catastrophic, magnitude-7 earthquake hitting the Northwest within the next 50 years.
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Title Annotation:On First Reading
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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