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By Roger Dey
Editor, Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

Rumble and Shake: Little Damage but Rattled Nerves

 

Roger Dey, Blackfoot Valley Dispatch

Soup cans oil and hot sauces litter an aisle in D&D Foodtown after Thursday morning's earthquake.

LINCOLN - About eight and a half miles below Ken and Sandy Crymble's home in Mead Gulch, something moved.

"I thought the cabin exploded. I didn't know," Crymble said. "The cabin was shaking and there just a loud, huge noise."

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a "shallow strike-slip faulting" motion triggered a 5.8 magnitude earthquake almost directly beneath the Crymble home at 12:30 a.m., July 6.

As a retired fire chief, Crymble had years of experience. Awaking from a deep sleep by pages and alerts, and the area around Lincoln has a somewhat active seismic history, so he'd experienced tremors there before, but he has trouble trying to describe the sensation of finding himself atop the epicenter of the eighth largest earthquake recorded in Montana.

Crymble said people often talk about hearing a loud bang then a rumble, but in Mead Gulch they happened simultaneously, and it was deafening.

"This one...I just can't explain it," he said. "You come out of a dead sleep and you're grabbing each other and you don't know if the cabin is coming down, or what else."

In an instant, the noise and tremors roared outward from Mead Gulch in all directions. It knocked out power to about 1350 people and shook the Lincoln area for nearly a minute, jolting people awake as their homes shuddered around them.

While the tremor had nowhere near the force of the state's largest – the 7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake in 1959 that killed 28 people and moved 40 million cubic tons of material – it was reportedly felt as far north as Calgary and as far west as Seattle.

Locally, it left people both literally and figuratively rattled.

Nine miles from the epicenter, in the Hogum Creek area, Tracy MacKnight thought a plane had landed on the roof of her home. Finding herself in the dark with her grandson Taylor Korth, she was briefly unsure of what to do.

"The scariest part was hearing the glass breaking all around and not knowing where it was," she said.

Eventually she remembered the flashlight function on her phone. She found the quake had cost her an entire set of antique china that had been in her family for three generations. Fearing damage to the home's integrity, they headed to Lincoln to spend the night at a friend's.

Some of the worst reported damage came from the home of Gordy Becker, who lives along Highway 200, east of Lincoln. He was outside his house enjoying a fire with family and girlfriend Hope Quay when the quake hit. Inside bottles, wall hangings and several trophy mounts hit the floor. The building suffered damage to the foundation, chimney, walls and water line. Becker's son and daughter, who were asleep inside, were unharmed.

Just four miles straight north of the epicenter Susie Gehring was asleep in the vintage camper trailer she stays in while tending her goat herd and working on the old Lee Hughes cabin along Humbug Creek. She said her "bamboozled" brain interpreted the quake as a massive bear rocking the camper as it tried to get in.

"I jumped up and started yelling and grabbed my gun and ran outside, because if there's a big bear out there I want to go out there with my pea shooter," she said with more than a hint of sarcasm.

"It totally freaked me out. It was quite a while before I got myself together."

In Lincoln, Fire Chief Zach Muse made sure his daughters and his granddaughter were safe before trying to call dispatch in Helena for more information. With communications affected by a deluge of more than 230 calls to 911 informing them there had been a quake, he couldn't get through. Rather than wait, he sent out a page to the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department telling firefighters to take care of their families and then come down to the fire hall if possible so they could start figuring things out.

"Most everybody showed up," a visibly exhausted Muse said Thursday afternoon.

After Crymble did a check of his home, which surprisingly had only suffered a couple cracks in the foundation and in the garage, cracks in the ceiling and had pictures knocked off the wall, he headed to the fire station in Lincoln to help out.

In Helena, the earthquake roused Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton. By the time the third aftershock hit he said someone had posted online that the epicenter was near Lincoln, which prompted him to call Muse.

"Leo (Dutton) ... said it sounded like it was centered at Rogers Pass, so we focused our efforts on that end of the valley and started calling all the people out (there)," Muse said.

"The highway patrol sent a trooper through Wolf Creek canyon to check for rocks," Dutton said. "One of my deputies and a highway patrolman came up Flesher and . . . they moved quite a bit of rock on the way over."

Once they arrived in Lincoln Muse asked them to patrol the roads to look for damage or accidents.

At the Lincoln Ranger District, Ranger Michael Stansberry and staff members checked on the seasonal employees staying at Ranger Station before heading out to assess the National Forest campgrounds.

"The campground hosts were doing a good job talking to people," Stansberry said. Nonetheless, a couple people at Aspen Grove had had enough following a couple aftershocks and decided to leave. Stansberry said the campgrounds, as well as the recently restored Granite Butte fire tower, appeared to make it through the quake without any damage.

Once he was comfortable with the safety of the forest facilities and visitors, Stansberry put on his volunteer firefighter hat and joined the LVFD effort to check on area residents.

As more firefighters arrived they began making wider rounds to check on people and structures.

"There's not a lot you can do when you don't have a specific emergency," Muse said. "But just being out there, it calms people,"

By about 1:30 a.m. Northwestern Energy had reset a breaker and had the power back on to Lincoln.

By then Muse had a better sense of what they were dealing with and that there didn't appear to be any catastrophic damage or injuries.

Aside from the rock falls along the highways, the only road issue discovered that was likely related to the quake was some sloughing and small crack in the road near Stemple Pass.

Throughout most of the day Thursday, Lincoln was abuzz with stories of the earthquake and its effect on homes and businesses, and just as with the earthquake, the news traveled outward to the rest of the world from an epicenter. In this case, the epicenter was D&D Foodtown.

Vehicles from several area news outlets were parked outside for most the morning, waiting for the store to open.

Ruth Baker, who opened the store Thursday morning, found herself dealing with the media as well as the mess. She said she had some forewarning of the mess. Another employee had stopped in to meet a truck earlier in the morning, and she'd seen reports of the damage at Helena's Walmart online. "I expected some damage, but not this much," she said.

Every aisle was littered with products that had toppled from shelves. Broken bottles had spread wine, oil, salsa, syrup and other products throughout every aisle.

"I think its going to be mostly lost product," said Lori Arambarri, who owns the store with her husband Ron.

Fortunately, D&D had several people volunteer to help clean up the mess.

Volunteers JoAnn and Ken Nelson worked side by side, putting unbroken products back on shelves. "We live in town and saw what it did to our place," JoAnn said. "After we cleaned up, we figured we better walk downtown and see if other places needed a hand."

"You gotta love the small town. Everybody jumps in and helps," Arambarri said.

On the Rocks Liquor also made the news as it dealt with a mess that could have been much worse. Dawn Kirby reported the loss of only about 17 bottles, thanks in part to the carpeted floor at their new location at the corner of Highway 200 and Stemple Pass Road. It seemed to cushion many of the bottles that were rattled off the shelves.

In general, it appeared there was no serious damage anywhere in the Lincoln area, although both Muse and Dutton expect more reports to trickle in over time.

Most of the bars reported some broken glassware and damaged bottles of liquor. The Wheel Inn reportedly had grease slosh out of their deep fryer, and a small TV above the till at Lambkin's hit the floor. Grizzly hardware lost a single hummingbird feeder and one can of brake fluid, while Teresa G's had several items fall from shelves.

The Lincoln Library found most of their books on the floor and some ceiling tiles down, but that too was cleaned up with the help of volunteers.

Shane Brown, who teaches at Lincoln School, found his classroom – one of only two on the school's small second floor –in disarray as well. Ceiling tiles had been shaken to the point the aluminum framework holding them was twisted and broken. The tiles knocked over several items in the classroom, scattering CDS across the floor and shattering a coffee cup. Brown said a few items had fallen off shelves elsewhere in the school, but Lincoln School Superintendent Carla Anderson said they hadn't found any additional damage to the building.

Roger Dey, Blackfoot Valley Dispatch

Vehicles from area news stations wait outside D&D Foodtown Thursday morning.

"All in all, we have no casualties, no catastrophic structure failures. We have no substantial failure of people's dwellings," said Dutton, who was impressed by the response he saw throughout Lincoln, both from the volunteer responders and from the community members who stepped up to help their neighbors. "I'm very, very thankful for that. Not all communities have that. When disaster strikes they all lined up to help,"

By and large, most of the anecdotes shared around town Thursday indicated pictures frames, deer and elk mounts, knick-knacks and peace of mind were the main casualties of the quake.

Officially, the USGS had recorded 49 aftershocks by Monday night, 32 of which were at a magnitude of 2.5 or higher, which can be felt and often heard.

Crymble and his wife have felt and recorded upwards of 70 aftershocks in Mead Gulch. In his understated manner, he simply refers to the whole thing as "unnerving."

 

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