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Hebgen Lake quake landslide

This photo taken shortly after the Aug. 17, 1959, Hebgen Lake earthquake shows the landslide that created Quake Lake. 

The Standard has compiled a list of earthquakes that were felt in Butte since 1897. It includes quips and quotes from newspaper reports:

Nov. 4, 1897: The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology listed this earthquake, centered around Dillon, as approximately 6.4 on the Richter scale. For Butte residents, however, it was described as the “most enjoyable Butte ever experienced.” It was noted in the Anaconda Standard that the earthquake had “some style about it.”

April 18, 1910: Believed to be centered in Butte, the estimated 5.4 earthquake hit the Mining City and Anaconda around 1:30 a.m. At first, residents thought it was a mine explosion. It was reported that “scores ran out in the streets in scanty attire, for fear that buildings would come down over their head.” It was also noted that the “prisoners in the city jail were badly frightened and clamored to get out.”

April 22, 1917: Although Butte residents first thought it was an explosion in the mines, it was reported in the Anaconda Standard that two “very distinct earthquake shocks” were felt in Butte, particularly in the neighborhoods of Walkerville and Meaderville. The world was at war in 1917; therefore, another rumor circulating throughout the Mining City was that German agents had used dynamite to destroy a powder plant in Ramsay. Although no extensive damage was reported, the article stated that around 9 p.m., residents ran from their homes as did people in the bars and theaters. It was also noted that the quake was strong enough to turn over furniture and was felt by miners working underground.

Dec. 18, 1922: As an early Christmas present, at around 9:40 p.m., the earth again shook in Butte. German agents were not being blamed this time. Instead, thanks to an amateur astronomist, residents believed it was a meteor that had crashed into nearby mountains. The quake, which knocked pictures from the wall, shook windows, and “violently” rattled dishes, was felt throughout Montana and recorded by a seismologist at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

June 27, 1925: A total of six temblors, the strongest being estimated at 6.75, were felt throughout Montana and in Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, too. Beginning at 6:22 p.m. and lasting until 10:40 p.m., the only damage in Butte and Anaconda was “broken dishes and a few fallen chimneys.” Other Montana towns were not so lucky. In White Sulphur Springs, the courthouse was destroyed and the jail and school severely damaged. The brick schoolhouse at Three Forks was also demolished, landslides were reported, and the Jefferson River dropped two feet. School facilities in Manhattan were destroyed, and major damage occurred to the theater and bank. Other towns, such as Billings and Livingston, had cracks in their buildings and sidewalks. Butte telephone operators were inundated with calls from worried residents. It was reported in the Standard that “seven girls fainted under the strain and were carried from the room but, after reviving, returned to their posts to give the service which the hundreds of twinkling lights on the switchboard demanded.”

Oct. 11 to Oct. 31, 1935: “The vibrations of old Mother Earth’s crust” were felt around 1 a.m., rousing Butte and Montana residents from their beds. It was reported that Madison County and East Helena were “shaken severely” by the estimated 5.9 quake. The Montana Standard reported two distinct temblors in Butte, causing “buildings to sway,” as did the earth, “in small rivulets.” In the following days, a number of smaller earthquakes hit the Helena area. On Oct. 18, at 9:50 p.m., Helena was hit with a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, causing major damage to dozens of businesses and homes. One of the casualties was the newly built Helena High School, which was nearly leveled. Reports in the Standard stated that “virtually no person (in Helena) spent the night under a roof ... People crowded around camp fires in vacant lots.” Shortly before lunch on Oct. 31, Montana’s capitol was hit with yet another strong earthquake, registering 6.0. While felt moderately in Butte, the quake destroyed many Helena buildings already damaged by the Oct. 18 quake. As a result of the three major temblors, seven Helena residents were killed.

Nov. 28, 1935: Another 6.0 earthquake shook Helena on Thanksgiving Day. This time, however, relatively little damage occurred. According to an article in The Montana Standard, for nearly a year after the Oct. 11, 1935, earthquake, Helena had nearly 2,000 aftershocks.

Aug. 17, 1959: Nearly 46 years ago, Montana was hit with its largest earthquake, not only in magnitude, but also in terms of casualties and monetary damage. The approximate 7.3 quake, centered at the Madison Valley’s Hebgen Lake, killed 28 people and caused approximately $11 million in damage to the area. As a direct result of the quake, a mountainside collapsed, a new lake was formed, and new geysers developed at nearby Yellowstone National Park. In Butte, cracks appeared in the Federal Building, and the Franklin School was damaged and would later be deemed too dangerous to be used.

Oct. 21, 1964: Hebgen Lake was again the center of an earthquake, estimated to be 5.8 on the Richter scale. An Associated Press report in the Oct. 22 Montana Standard said “hundreds sat up in bed when the rocking motion startled them.” Felt throughout Montana, the quake, it was said, “came as a roar and a thump in some areas, a mild shaking to others.”

March 7, 1966: Described as the “sharpest felt in the Mining City since Aug. 17, 1959,” residents of Butte and the rest of southwest Montana got their work week and school week off to a good start when a “sharp earthquake” occurred shortly after 11 a.m. on a Monday morning. School officials reported shaking desks, and windows rattled at homes and businesses.

Oct. 28, 1983: Although its epicenter was Challis, Idaho, the 6.9 earthquake, which killed two young children, was felt in eight states, including Montana. In Dillon, the courthouse chimney collapsed, and in Butte, a 10-foot crack in the courthouse wall appeared. A trucker making a stop in Deer Lodge told a reporter his initial reaction was that it was a bomb. “They’ve dropped a bomb on Lebanon,” he said, “and it’s all coming to an end.”

Aug. 20, 1999: It had been 25 years since a 5.0 or stronger earthquake’s epicenter was in Montana (the last one being the 5.8 quake at Hebgen Lake in 1964). This southwestern Montana quake’s epicenter was near Red Rock and had a magnitude of 5.3.

July 26, 2005: Just after 10 p.m., a 5.6 earthquake was felt throughout western Montana. The epicenter was 13 miles northwest of Dillon, but no serious damage occurred. In the newsroom of The Montana Standard, an employee timed the shaking at 25 seconds.

March 22, 2006: People reported pictures falling off the walls, but there was really no serious damage during this 4.2 earthquake near Libby.

May 8, 2007: Sheridan residents thought the 4.5 earthquake was really a gas explosion. The quake shook bricks loose on some Sheridan buildings. Other damage was minor.

March 6, 2009: Minor damage occurred during this 4.2 earthquake centered two miles south of Whitehall.


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