Yellowstone visitors’ 'end of the world' fears after huge earthquake rocked park

The park is home to the daunting Yellowstone volcano – a supervolcano that gets its name due to its capability to cause global devastation in the event of an eruption. Located below the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the area is constantly monitored by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for signs that such an eruption is on its way. But, geologists were caught off guard on the evening of August 17, 1959, during the Hebgen Lake earthquake which would inevitably create a new lake on the Madison River following a landslide.

The devastating 7.3 magnitude quake killed 28 people and caused more than £9million (£200million today) in damage, and the survivor stories are nothing short of sobering.

Historian Larry Morris recalls the gripping minute-by-minute saga in his book ‘The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake Disaster’.

Detailing an account, he writes: “Air force warrant officer Victor James said: ‘I heard a terrible rumble and looked up.

“‘I saw the whole mountain crumbling. It was awful.

“‘I saw a lot of fighting during World War 2, but I never heard such a roar.’”

According to the text, another survivor said: “The roar sounded like the end of the world.”

Mr Morris went on to detail how one of the campers came inches from death.

He added: “Camping out in Montana’s Madison River Canyon, Irene and Purley (Pub) Bennett and their four children had settled just a few hours earlier, gazing up at a spectacular full Moon as they drifted asleep.

“Then Irene and Pud woke up to an ‘incredible rumbling sound’.

READ MORE: ‘Ground might blow up any minute’ How huge Yellowstone earthquake put USGS on alert

Their tent was half-buried, but her husband Ray managed to grab the hand of their son Steve and rescue him just in time.

A trained nurse, Ms Greene said in 2009: “I was the luckiest person there.

“I was busy, I didn’t have to worry about what had happened or what was going to happen.”

After only three weeks the damned river created a lake more than 50 metres deep which now covers an area five miles long and a third of a mile wide.

Jack Epstein, a geologist emeritus with the USGS was working as a field assistant in Montana when the earthquake hit and he was immediately put on alert to investigate.

As fate would have it, his team’s campsite was essentially at the epicentre, on a hill overlooking Hebgen Lake.

His mapping project was temporarily put on hold, and Mr Epstein spent the next several weeks escorting various teams of geologists around the area.

In spite of the human toll, Earth processes were on display in an unprecedented way, and the team had to take advantage of it.

He said in 2008: “It was a marvellous opportunity for a beginning geologist.”

Today, tourists to the area can stop by the Earthquake Lake Visitor Centre, which is situated 27 miles north of West Yellowstone to relive the horrors from more than half a century ago.

‘The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake Disaster’ was published by The History Press in 2016 and is available to buy here.


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