Intermountain Seismic Belt Historical Earthquake Project
October 18, 1935 – Helena, MT (series) – M 6¼
October 12, 1935 – Foreshock (M 5.9)
This early morning earthquake (12:50 a.m. local time) caused many frightened residents to run from their homes. It was reported that despite the alarm people felt, many maintained a sense of humor about the event as they gathered in the streets and swapped stories of their experiences. No deaths resulting from the foreshock were reported.
Reports described damage as severe and widespread throughout the city. Windows were broken, stock was shaken from store shelves, pipes and wires were broken, chimneys toppled, furniture overturned, walls were cracked and plaster was shaken from walls and ceilings. It was reported that City Engineer Oscar Baarson estimated total damages between $50,000 and $75,000.
Following the foreshock, two officials advised taking measures to make buildings more earthquake resistant. Suggested measures included bracing chimneys, deeper foundations especially on loose soils, fastening brick veneers to walls, discontinuing the use of veneers altogether. Other suggestions included revising the building codes to make structures more earthquake resistant.
The earthquake was reported felt in Great Falls, Butte and Dillon, MT. Additional smaller earthquakes continued to be felt. In a news article published on October 17 it was reported that the Helena Weather Bureau had recorded a total of 52 earthquakes as of October 16 with the latest two quakes being 12 hours and 45 minutes apart. The article concluded that, “The fact that the quivers are so far apart indicates that the ‘earthquake season’ is drawing to a conclusion.”
October 18, 1935 – Main Shock (M 6¼)
At 9:48 p.m. (local time) the city was rocked by the magnitude 6¼ main shock. Some individuals screamed and ran from buildings. One person was reported killed when he was crushed under a brick wall that fell into the street. Another died from injuries sustained from a building collapse. A score or more individuals were seriously injured, most from being struck by falling debris as they ran out of buildings. As terrified people fled the city by car, a number of automobile accidents occurred resulting in additional injuries.
The earthquake knocked out lights and power for approximately an hour causing further terror, and difficulty for doctors attempting to treat the injured.
Significant damage occurred to many buildings with some entirely destroyed. Approximately 300 homes were damaged so badly as to be uninhabitable. One report described the streets being strewn with debris. Telephone service was interrupted for more than two hours.
City Engineer Oscar Baarson estimated damages from the earthquake at a minimum of $2,500,000. A report on October 21 indicated that Mr. Baarson requested patience as he and a crew of seven worked their way through several hundred requests for damage inspections.
The American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and National Guard, assisted in providing first aid stations, sleeping quarters and kitchens for the hundreds of people rendered homeless by the earthquake. The local Y.M.C.A. invited homeless individuals to shower at their facilities for no cost. Authorities estimated it would be a week before people were allowed to resume normal affairs in the city.
The Red Cross reported 100 requests (representing approximately 400 individuals) for emergency food and medical care. The Red Cross also prepared to assist with a home rebuilding program for families in need. Local banks pledged resources for making home repair loans as approved by the Federal Housing Administration.
Surface cracks 150 feet long, three feet deep and several inches wide were reported at one location in the Helena Valley.
The earthquake was reported felt over a wide area of western Montana, but no damage outside the city of Helena was reported. Additional felt reports were received from Washington and Idaho.
October 31, 1935 – Aftershock (M 6)
At 11:37 a.m. (local time) a significant aftershock occurred near East Helena, MT. One report noted that the shock surprised Helena residents, who had believed the worst of the shaking had occurred earlier in the month. The report also noted that aside from some fainting spells, little panic was observed. However, some individuals evacuated the city by car.
Cracked plaster and broken windows were reported. Two school buildings suffered significant damage. On the west side of the city, there were reports of fallen chimneys. However, on Helena’s east side, some buildings that had been only partly damaged by the main shock were completely destroyed when the aftershock occurred. It appeared that most of the damage was to structures already weakened by the main shock. Damage to buildings that had been unaffected by the main shock consisted mostly of cracks in plaster and exterior walls and damaged chimneys.
Two brick masons, part of a crew from Salt Lake City, were killed from falling bricks as they were removing a smokestack at the local brewery. There were at least nine individuals who suffered serious injuries during the aftershock.
The north wing of the new Helena High School, already badly damaged from the main shock, completely collapsed during the October 31 aftershock. It was reported that 25-30 men who were working in the building escaped without injury thanks in part, to their foreman who shouted reminders for them not to run out of the structure.
Plans to open city schools following the main shock were cancelled when the aftershock occurred. It was later decided that schools would not open until after the new year.
November 28, 1935 – Aftershock (M 5.5)
Less than a month later, the city experienced another significant aftershock that struck at 7:41 a.m. (local time). The earthquake did not cause significant new damage in the city of Helena. It was, however, reported to be among the strongest of the series felt outside the area in locations such as Great Falls, Butte, Missoula, Kalispell and Deer Lodge among others. Bozeman reported only light shaking.
Following the earthquake, City Engineer Oscar Baarson revised his estimate of total damages from the earthquake series to $5,000,000.00 or more.
For additional information about this earthquake:
For more information about this project: