“Ground Shakes, but Faith Firm after Quake,” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 76–77
Following the strongest earthquake to strike the forty-eight contiguous United States in nearly a quarter of a century, members of the Church in central Idaho assessed the damage and then gave thanks that it hadn’t been worse.
In a spirit of concern for others, members in the town that was hardest hit remarked that it was fortunate the quake took place in their rural area and not in some population center. “We’re just glad that it happened here, where almost nobody was injured,” commented Bishop Herschel Lyle Ivie of the Mackay Idaho Ward.
Although damage from the quake was heaviest in Mackay, nearly one hundred miles northwest of Idaho Falls, the only loss of life occurred in Challis, some fifty miles beyond. Two young children walking to school were buried under stones that fell from an abandoned building.
One of them, six-year-old Travis Franck, was the son of Church member Truman Franck. The other child, seven-year-old Tara Leadon, was a member of the Roman Catholic church. But in the small Idaho town, members and nonmembers alike mourned for the two children. Their death was felt keenly by Challis Ward Bishop Robert Lisonbee, who worked with both youngsters at the elementary school where he is principal.
Bishop Lisonbee reported that two other children who ordinarily walked to school with Travis and Tara missed being crushed under the falling stones because they had not yet joined their schoolmates when the earthquake struck at 8:06 A.M. on the morning of October 28.
The magnitude of the quake was measured at 6.9 on the Richter scale. It opened a twelve-mile-long rift in the earth, pushed Mt. Borah, Idaho’s tallest peak, several feet higher; and opened up or closed off water sources. It did an estimated twelve and a half million dollars damage in the state. Among the buildings that had to be condemned were a junior high school and part of the state School for the Deaf and Blind. Schools in Mackay were closed for a time while damage was assessed and safety was assured.
The earthquake was felt over a wide area, shaking homes and buildings as far south as Salt Lake City. One observer in Rexburg, about one hundred miles east, reported that the initial quake lasted some forty seconds. Aftershocks were felt periodically for several weeks. Roads were cut in some areas, stranding hunters.
In Mackay five old buildings on Main Street had to be pulled down. Many homes with brick fireplaces and chimneys were damaged.
“Almost every ward member had some loss,” Bishop Ivie reported. In some cases, it was major; part of one home was crushed, houses were moved on their foundations, and a support holding up a fuel tank on one member’s property gave way, dropping the tank to the ground and spilling three hundred gallons of diesel fuel. In other homes, the damage was less severe but still emotionally painful. Part of a season’s harvest was lost as bottles of fruits and vegetables were shattered, along with dishes and other treasured items.
Concern for others extended to everyone; neighbors helped buoy each other up in their losses.
On the ward level, leaders of the priesthood quorums took charge of organizing repair work. Visiting teachers helped ward leaders assess needs of members.
Help was offered by every ward in the Moore Idaho Stake, and some from outside as well, Bishop Ivie said. There were also offers of food and other necessities through the Church welfare system and the Red Cross, but members were able to meet their own needs within the area.
Much of the required repair work has been done, the bishop reported, but work is still underway to repair brick fireplaces and chimneys.
“The attitude of the people is good,” he said, considering the magnitude of the quake. “They’re just happy that it hasn’t been worse.”
Emotionally, though, many central Idaho residents were “pretty jumpy, pretty edgy,” Bishop Lisonbee said. A handful of citizens left Mackay for a few days to live with family members elsewhere, but they returned later. In Challis, Bishop Lisonbee noted many children were fearful of entering the school building for several days.
The ward chapel at Leslie, near Mackay, was among buildings damaged by the earthquake; bricks were knocked off or loosened on a seventy-foot section of wall. But the structure remained sound, and preparation for repairs is in progress.