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Preliminary estimates peg Nisqually quake damage at $1.5 million

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SEATTLE - The Nisqually tribe sustained severe damage to tribal buildings during the late February 6.8 Northwest earthquake.

Tribal sources say preliminary estimates on damage near $1.5 million. The Nisqually live between Tacoma and Olympia, close to the Feb. 28 quake epicenter and appear to be the most hard hit Northwest tribe.

Luckily no one was injured and tribal sources say earthquake insurance will help pay for some of the damage. The BIA contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal government agreed to help the tribe with repairs through that agency.

Engineers inspecting the tribal store "yellow tagged" the structure because a large front window is in danger of falling. The store was built to specifications of the Texaco Corp., which has a five-year contract with the tribe to sell its gasoline at that location.

Sources say they will try to fix the window as soon as possible and are considering a lawsuit against Texaco.

For now the tribe says it has not made a decision on whether to close the store but says it is scrambling to get the structure fixed as soon as possible.

Among hard hit buildings was the tribe's casino which was forced to close for a short time until building engineers could send in a carpenter crew and tie some steel to cracked joints in the structure.

The restaurant portion of the casino received the brunt of the damage and was closed for a longer period. The tribe is unsure of how much revenue was lost during the forced closures.

The tribal administration and health center were damaged as well. Estimates are it will cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to adequately fix the administration building.

Perhaps serious are the cracks in two holding ponds in the fish hatchery as a result of the quake. More than 900,000 salmon were scheduled to be moved to those holding ponds early this month. The tribe is weighing its options and sources say the salmon will have to be dumped into the Nisqually River if a suitable replacement cannot be found in time.

This threatens tribal economics since the mortality rates increase when fish are prematurely released into the wild. For example, hatchery -raised salmon have a 10 percent return while fish let into the wild have only a 2 percent return.

This could deliver an economic hit to tribal fishermen who, under a new Washington state fishing agreement, won the right to increased salmon harvests in years with good runs.

Tribal sources there is no way the ponds will be fixed in time and repairs will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $175,000.

"We're just lucky that everyone's all right," says Richard Wells, tribal administrator, who tried to remain in good spirits despite the damage.

"I've heard it's been raining down in California and it's been dry up here. So now that they got our rain, we get their earthquakes."