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Magnitude 5.8 Earthquake Rattles Western Montana

USGS reports quake was probably the strongest in Montana since October 1964

Updated: July 6, 1 p.m.

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake and multiple aftershocks rattled much of western Montana early Thursday morning, according to the United States Geological Survey.

An initial report from the USGS states the epicenter of the earthquake was near Lincoln, 70 miles east of Missoula, but strong tremors were felt from Bozeman to the Flathead Valley. The earthquake occurred shortly after 12:30 a.m. The USGS reports that the epicenter of the quake was 2.6 miles beneath the surface.

Mike Stickney, a seismologist at the Earthquake Studies Office with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte, told the Associated Press the quake was probably the strongest in Montana since October 1964 and was located along the axis of the intermountain seismic belt.

Stickney does not believe the quake is seismically linked to the recent swarm of more than 1,100 smaller earthquakes in and around Yellowstone National Park over the past two weeks.

The USGS reported that there were at least four aftershocks an hour after the initial earthquake, measuring between magnitude 3.9 and 4.9. The agency noted seven other quakes ranging from magnitude 3.5 to 4.4 over the next hour. Two others followed, with the most recent being a 3.6 quake at 7:15 a.m.

The USGS received reports of people feeling the earthquake throughout Montana and in parts of Idaho, Washington and Wyoming, the AP reported.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the earthquake in Northwest Montana. Administrators at both Hungry Horse Dam and SKQ Dam near Polson reported no damages or disruptions to the infrastructure.

The Flathead 911 Center received 83 phone calls within 15 minutes of the first quake, according to director Elizabeth Brooks. A total of 113 calls were received in the hour following the quake.

“When earthquakes occur, Flathead 911 encourages people to report any injuries or damage by calling 911,” Brooks said. “However, if people simply wish to report that an earthquake occurred or are only looking for information, it is requested that they call non-emergency lines or check the U.S. Geological Survey Facebook page or their website at earthquake.usgs.gov.”

Eight patrons at the Wilderness Bar in Lincoln headed for the doors as stools and glass bottles started falling over.

“I just jumped over the bar and pretty much landed in a guy’s lap,” bartender Sheri Deluca told the Great Falls Tribune.

At the nearby Wheel Inn Tavern, bartender Lisa Large said the power went out and bottles flew off the shelves.

“It slopped all the grease outta the fryer,” she told the Missoulian. “The kitchen’s a mess right now.”

Food was knocked off grocery store shelves in Lincoln and Helena, the AP reported.

Earthquakes are not uncommon in Montana, according to Stickney. He said the western portion of the state actually experiences about five earthquakes every day, but most are too small to be noticed. He said there are about a dozen noticeable earthquakes every year in the region.

There have been more than 70 quakes measuring larger than 4.5 in Montana and parts of Wyoming and Idaho since 1925, according to the USGS. The largest quake in Montana history was magnitude 7.2 near West Yellowstone in 1959.

The Flathead Valley has experienced a few notable earthquakes over the years. In 1952, an earthquake impacted the Swan Lake area and caused minor damage along the east shores of Flathead Lake. A magnitude 4.7 quake in April 1969 caused damage in Big Arm, Dayton, Proctor, Lake Mary Ronan and Polson. There were at least 21 aftershocks felt during the following month and 325 minor aftershocks felt from May 1969 until December 1971. In 1975, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake rattled the Creston area. And in 1995 a swarm of earthquakes rattled the Kila area for a few months.

Kelsey Johnson | Flathead Beacon

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story. 

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