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Hebgen Lake earthquake remembered, 62 years later

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Posted at 8:28 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 10:50:10-04

Sixty-two years ago, a powerful earthquake shook parts of Montana--- forever changing the landscape in Yellowstone Park.

The Hebgen Lake Earthquake measured 7.2 magnitude and caused a huge landslide, resulting in the deaths of 28 people in Montana.

It could be felt hundreds of miles away.

Vic Miller was in the studio at KOOK radio in Billings on the night of Aug. 17, 1959, when the quake struck.

“I had my chair back up against the wall, and it started to rattle, and (a co-worker) said, 'my God, what’s that?' And I said, 'it’s an earthquake.' I had felt one before,” said Miller.

The next day Miller was on a chartered plane to the airport in West Yellowstone to cover the earthquake.

Miller covered a lot of big stories in his more than half-century in broadcasting as a reporter, anchor and eventually general manager of KTVQ, but none bigger than this one.

“It was unbelievable. It was unbelievable. We flew over areas where the highway dropped 10 feet. It was crazy,” he recalled.

He would get some of the first interviews with survivors.

“Some of the stories they had. One couple we talked to were in a tent and he had a flashlight and shown it outside, and he said a boulder the size of a Volkswagen rolled past, but it missed the tent. Another couple, as the water kept rising, they kept crawling up a tree further and further. And they were a couple probably in their 6os, but they survived,” he remembers.

Those were the lucky ones. At the time, Miller didn’t know how many had perished in the earthquake.

“It ended up at 28 and of course 19 are still up there and will be forever,” he says.

Sixty-two years later, it is a story he has never forgotten.

“You would wake up at night thinking about it for a while. Just talking to survivors, they were terrified even the day after and the quake was over and they were still terrified,” he said.

CBS radio picked up several of Miller’s reports on the aftermath of the earthquake and broadcast them nationwide.

“It was of course the biggest story I ever covered on radio,” he says.