From the archives: Winters visitor describes earthquake

This story was originally published in the Express in 1959.

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Maurice H. Wallace, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, who is visiting his brother, the editor, was in West Yellowstone, Montana, when the recent earthquake hit. He is a professional geologist, and the following is his account of the quake: I was sleeping peacefully in my rented cabin on the west edge of West Yellowstone, Montana when I was suddenly thrown from my bed onto a violently jerking floor covered with sloshing water. I realized at once that I was in a severe earthquake but there was nothing I could do. The quaking was so strong that I could not get to my feet and escape through the door. It appeared that the cabin would crash so I crawled about half way under the bed. After what seemed about half an hour but was only about two and a half minutes, the shaking let up and I was able to escape to the safety of my car. I turned on the car radio but there were no reports for almost an hour. Then some of the nearby stations mentioned quakes and within about three hours it was evident that the quake had been quite severe. No casualties were reported until morning when reports of major landslides came in and quite a few tourists were reported trapped along the Madison river. Within a few minutes of the first and major quake, a steady stream of cars left West Yellowstone going south into Idaho. Minor shakes occurred all night long at irregular intervals. Almost every shake was followed by an increase in the number of cars leaving the area. Most of the people in our camp huddled around a community campfire, drinking coffee and discussing the quake. Some of the men toured all the cabins to make sure everything was all right. My cabin was the worst hit. The doors and windows shook off and the and the cabin was tilted at 12-15 degrees. All the chinking between log had fallen out. An unopened bottle of Jim Beam bourbon had fallen and broken, giving the the cabin the appearance of a real wild party. The stove had fallen and all utensils and water containers were scattered over the wet floor. I didn’t get much sleep, and by daylight I started packing my car. However, I did not leave until about 9 o’clock when I joined the exodus from the disturbed zone. The highway was broken a few miles from town but cars could still get by without difficulty. No other damage was apparent was apparent along the highway. Earthquakes are caused by the building up of tension within the crust of the earth and the sudden tension within the crust of the earth and the sudden release of this tension sets up waves in the rocks of the crust. This occurs more frequently in the unstable mountain regions of the earth’s crust than it does in the stable plains areas of old mountains which have adjusted to a status of relative stability. The Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast regions are the most likely areas for earthquakes to develop. Seismic measurements show that the Southern Montana quake was only slightly less severe than that of San Francisco in 1906.]]>

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