The park is home to the spooky Yellowstone Caldera – a colossal volcano that got its name for its ability to cause global destruction in the event of a volcanic eruption. The area lies just below Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and the area is constantly monitored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for signs that such a volcanic eruption is on its way. But geologists were surprised on the evening of August 17, 1959, during the Lake Heibgen earthquake that inevitably created a new lake on the Madison River after a landslide.
A devastating earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale claimed 28 lives and caused more than 9 million pounds (£ 200, or 266 million today) in damage.
Historian Larry Morris recalled the minute epic minute by minute in his book The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake Disaster.
He wrote detailing: “Air Force warrant officer Victor James said,“ I heard a terrible rumble and looked up.
“I saw the whole mountain collapse. It was awful.
“I saw a lot of fighting during WWII, but I had never heard such a roar before.”
According to the transcript, another survivor said, “The roar looked like the end of the world.”
Mr Morris went on to detail how one of the visitors came within an inch of death.
He added, “Camping in the Madison River Valley in Montana, Irene and Burley (Bud) Bennett and their four children just settled a few hours ago, staring at the stunning full moon while they slept.
Then Irene and Bud woke up to an “unbelievable roar.”
“What’s going on?” Pud shouted. “He got up, but was caught in a gust of wind, rocks and water.
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“Then a landslide hit the Madison River, crashing into the river from its bottom and sending waves 30 feet high up and downstream.”
Campers felt the power of the full waves.
When the Madison River was displaced, a huge wall of muddy water and debris engulfed the camp site.
“The Bennett family, the campsites downstream from the avalanche, was hit by one of those tsunamis,” added Mr. Morris.
“When she came, Irene was face down on the bank of the river, pinned under a pine tree that did not budge, shivering in the damp cold.
“I felt bruises and blood all over her body, and her lips were swollen.”
Fortunately, the Bennett family was rescued by emergency workers who responded to the devastation.
Today, tourists can stop by the Lake Earthquake Visitor Center, located 27 miles northwest of Yellowstone, to relive the terror of more than half a century ago.
In 2016 The History Press published the book “The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake Disaster” and is available for purchase here.
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