Video and multimedia essay by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights
Preparing to record the mother of all collapses of a Seattle icon — we stood tightly packed, as a captive audience of thousands, ready for a chain-reaction roar from tons of ignited explosives.
It was a sunny morning in Seattle on March 26, 2000, as my future wife and I set up video cameras to capture the Kingdome sports stadium’s last moments. Anticipating an enormous opportunity for dramatic video content, we arrived early, to set up tripods on a grassy knoll with an ideal stadium viewpoint. Our efforts were more than rewarded, with the structures stunning collapse; however the ensuing surprise aftereffects, were much more than planned for.
With only moments remaining for a syncopated, chain-reaction of explosions to pulverize its concrete victim —an anxious assembly of people, boats and helicopters settled in place. The percussive pops from helicopters perched overhead, drowned out voices from the crowd, whose attention focused ever sharper on the doomed stadium. All in attendance knew not much time remained before one of the world’s largest buildings would only be a memory.
In these preceding moments my memories returned to the early mid 1970s when the dome was first built. It proved a successful means to bring professional sports back to Seattle, with the Mariners and the Seahawks. I recall the agony and ecstasy of seeing Seahawk football, played inside the dome: of how loud fan cheering was and standing up to do the “Wave” which had recently been invented and imported from UW, Husky Stadium. The stadium’s greatest sports glory was: 1978-79 season of the SuperSonics, when the team won game 3 & 4 of the series at the dome; then winning the NBA Championship in-game 5, at a Washington DC against the Bullets.
Other events I attended at the dome were mega size rock concerts; although going to a concert at the dome was more about seeing the band, as the sound acoustics were horrible. One remarkable aspect forgotten about the dome was how cost-effective it was at a stadium facility; Nationally rated as a top civic venue for revenue generation, while producing real income for Seattle and King County. After nearly three decades of use, the domes mushroom like esthetics lost its luster and would have a hard time winning in any beauty contest. So, with maintenance and obsolescence catching up, its days became numbered and a decision had made on how to best remove it from the map. Imploding the Kingdome with explosives was selected the most efficient and quickest way to end its days.
Seattle Kingdome demolition March 26, 2000: view looking south moments before the explosion. Video by: David Johanson Vasquez /Bigpicturephoto.us ©
Anxiously some groups near us began to chant out countdowns for the detonation to begin: their efforts produced nothing but collective groans when reaching zero. On the third and final countdown a steady chorus chimed in, as we sensed this was going to be it. In between one and zero, hundreds of pigeons near the stadium instantly took flight; suddenly, startling flashes of bright light burst from the structure’s seems, followed by plumes of smoke from shooting towards the sky. At this instant, time seemed suspended; as if everything else in the world froze for a split second, to grant this colossus structure dignity of enjoying one last moment in the sun before falling from grace and collapsing into oblivion. For a moment, it was like watching a surreal, silent movie, due to absent sounds of shock waves, which travel much slower than the light created by flashes of explosions. A precise alignment of explosives, evenly spaced from the dome’s top to the ground, sliced through layers of concrete and steel, like a knife cutting wedges of a cake. Finally, a ground-shaking roar of sound reached us and was now in synch with the dome as it collapsed in a slow-motion pantomime. Astonishingly, the entire structure of 100 thousand tons of concrete and steel, which could have held several city blocks within its walls, appeared completely collapsed behind a dense shroud of dust and ash.
Watching in complete amazement and believing nothing could outdo what we had just witnessed, the crowds wild cheering was soon eclipsed by the sight of a rapidly advancing — ominous plume of swirling dust. The ash cloud accelerated unexpectedly from the blast site as it expanded evermore rapidly by hundreds of feet within seconds. This monstrous cloud of caustic dust and debris ironically appeared to come to life, for avenging the destroyed stadium.
You could see large groups of pedestrians who were closer to the demolition site, scrambling into the streets to find cover from the unstoppable storm of dust. Within seconds, visibility of south Seattle was gone; the menacing shroud turned the sunny day into night as it rapidly descended north into the heart of the Emerald City. Trying to keep my camera trained on the rogue cloud as it swallowed entire buildings and city blocks within its path, we notice it climbing to engulf our hill position. Grabbing the camera we scrambled for an exit, which would take us to safety in our vehicle. Reaching the park car in record time, the dust storm’s leading edge was now depositing a layer of particles on the hood, with gray quarter-inch sized chunks floating down like snow. Now safely inside, with relief we removed the sleeves from our faces, allowing for us to excitedly recount the dramatic events.
A few years later the EPA produced a report, which found comparable similarities in the debris particles from the Kingdome demolition; with what was found in the falling particles caused by World Trade Center attacks of 911. The ejected powdered concrete caused an airborne mixture of caustic particulates, with high traces of pH levels. The plan (or hope) for a debris cloud from the Kingdome demolition, was for a path heading south towards the industrial part of the city. Normally, wind patterns in the area predominantly flow northwards, so the ill-conceived plan allowed for the dome to seek revenge and spread it remains throughout most of Seattle’s downtown area.
Up until now I’ve used this video for educational purposes in video production classes. In the last segment of the video, are dramatic slow-motion and high-speed-motion of the Kingdome demolition. These techniques have a variety of applications for industry including: manufacturing, engineering, public services and creative entertainment.