Top 50 Stories: 1983 - Challis earthquake

6.9 temblor, one of largest in continental U.S., kills 2 children in Challis

doswald@idahostatesman.com npoppino@idahostatesman.comJune 17, 2014 

Statesman from Oct. 29, 1983

The quake shook the Challis-Mackay area of Central Idaho at 8:06 a.m. Oct. 28, 1983.

Even before the Internet transformed earthquake reporting and monitoring, the disaster left a legacy of its own. Measuring 30 to 60 seconds, it damaged buildings in Butte, Mont., and was felt from Portland to North Dakota and as far north as British Columbia, according to Statesman coverage at the time.

Closer to its epicenter - west of Borah Peak between Challis and Mackay - it did an estimated $12.5 million in damage. The two children who died were hit with debris from a falling wall. Several other people were treated for minor injuries.

In Downtown Boise, the quake was strong enough to sway an elevator full of people in what is now the U.S. Bank, according to past reports in the Statesman. In East Idaho, it served as a wake-up for the Idaho National Laboratory that the fault to its north was not dormant.

Today, drivers on U.S. 93 north of Arco can still see a fault scar along the mountains near Borah.

Scientists studied the area after the quake, seeking lessons to apply elsewhere in the Intermountain West. But the region has not been regularly monitored, even though it remains seismically active.

A string of small quakes northwest of Challis this spring prompted the U.S. Geological Survey to install three new seismographs in the area in April, hoping to better understand the recent activity. A call Monday to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center seeking an update was not returned.

A look Thursday at the USGS online earthquake tracker showed six recorded quakes in Custer County in the last 30 days, all listed at magnitude 2.6 or 2.7.

Though Borah Peak remains the largest recorded earthquake in Idaho, it is not the largest to be felt within the state. A magnitude 7.1 quake in 1959 at Hebgen Lake, Mont., was felt across the border in the area of Henry's Lake and Island Park. The Montana earthquake killed 28 people, formed a lake and did $11 million in damage to roads and timber, according to the USGS.

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