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From Bar Stools To Bed Frames, Earthquake Shakes Montana

USGS map showing the areas shaken by Thursday's earthquake.
USGS map showing the areas shaken by Thursday's earthquake.

From bar stools to bed frames, hundreds of Montanans felt the magnitude 5.8 earthquake early Thursday morning that originated a few miles southeast of Lincoln.

Listen to the audio to hear what the quake’s seismograph reading sounds like. Thanks to French geologist Anthony Lomax for tweeting this audio file, produced by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.
The U.S. Geological Survey has received more than 10,000 reports from people who felt the temblor, some as far away as Lethbridge, Canada, and Spokane, Washington.

We sent MTPR News Director Eric Whitney to Lincoln to get a sense of how the quake felt up close. He met Aaron Birkholz at the Coyote Coffee stand.

Birkholz was shaken awake in Lincoln.

"I thought somebody was pushing me into my wife on our bed," he says.

Aaron Birkholz
Credit Eric Whitney
Aaron Birkholz

The tremors lasted long enough for him to throw on some clothes, gather his family and take cover under a door frame.

"It seemed like it lasted forever, but I think it was about 30 seconds. This one wasn't a quick shake. It was like you were in a bad boat, in a real wavy boat," Birkholz says.

Smaller quakes continued to rumble Birkholz’s home throughout the night. He says he noticed new details with each one.

"The first one, I didn't hear the boom, but the second one I heard a loud boom before it happened. And now we realize it, my dog started spinning in circles, and that was crazy, and we heard that dog sense them," he says.

As the rumbles continued, he says he had a hard time getting back to sleep.

"I would doze off and then I would wake back up, and I don't know if it was from the earthquakes or the tremors after, or what."

The USGS has detected 15 smaller quakes since the initial magnitude 5.8 tremor at 12:30 Thursday morning. Birkholz says he’s felt nauseous all day from the swaying motion, but still describes his Montana earthquake experience with a sense of awe.

"Maybe it's just because we realize how small we are in this world now, and it's not something you feel all the time, or maybe we never feel it again," he says.

Just down the road, Eric talked to Ruth Baker at D & D Foodtown.

Baker and a posse of volunteers and employees spent the morning mopping up broken bottles of oil, pickles and salsa smashed on the floor of the grocery store. She says she’s felt quakes in Lincoln before, but not like this.

"Stuff doesn't fall off the shelves usually. In fact, a lot of them, we haven't felt them in this building. Some of the aftershocks from this one we haven't felt in this building," Baker says.

Ruth Baker found a mess at D & D food in Lincoln this morning.
Credit Eric Whitney
Ruth Baker found a mess at D & D food in Lincoln this morning.

Baker herself was at home during the first big quake.

"Have you ever ridden a train? You know how a train shakes? Like that," she says.

She says she stayed in bed to ride it out.

"Just adds to the adventure."

People took to Twitter early Thursday morning to share their earthquake experiences, including singer-songwriter John Mayer, who Tweeted that Thursday’s quake is the eighth biggest in Montana’s history. The largest was a magnitude 7.2 shudder in West Yellowstone 58 years ago that created Quake Lake and killed 28 people.

Rebecca Bendick is a professor of geosciences at the University of Montana. She too was caught off guard by last night’s shudder.

"I've spent, you know, 25 years studying earthquakes all over the world, and then one happens at my own house and I'm like, 'what's happening? What is happening?'"

Bendick says it’s unusual for earthquakes to happen so far away from fault lines, but in western Montana, there are other forces at play. The weight of the Rocky Mountains is partly to blame for the unexpected seismology in the state.

"Because these events far away from plate boundaries are unusual, really helps us to understand what's the total balance of forces in the earth's crust and how much of the action in the earth’s evolving landscape comes from plate boundaries and how much of it could we think of as being far from plate boundaries," Bendick says.

She says until last night’s quake, geologists weren’t aware there was anything interesting going on under Lincoln.

"The excitement of this is that we're getting closer everyday to better understanding the basic physics of the earthquake cycle. And every time there's an earthquake that we didn't expect, it gives us more insight into those processes related to earthquakes, because it gives us new data to work with to challenge our understanding and our expectations of how earthquakes work."

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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