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This is story where reality starts to break down in pieces. Alternative time streams start popping into ours and then out at an increasing rate, just chunks like part of a state, then stop. Earth is mostly back to normal at the end, but part of Alaska is from a less technological timeline, and there is a Russian trading post there, and there is a pre-Cambrian forest in Canada(?), and one city (Flint or Detroit) is returned from wherever it went...empty.

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"Sidewise in Time" by Murray Leinster (Will Jenkins), first published in Astounding Stories, June 1934, available at the Internet Archive. The story has its own Wikipedia page. Here is an excerpt:

But our losses are heavy. Besides those daring individuals who were carried away upon the strange territories they were exploring, there are the overwhelming disasters affecting Detroit, and Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro. The last two we understand. When the causes of oscillation sidewise in time were removed, most of the earth-sections returned to their proper positions in their own time-paths. But not all. There is a section of Post-Cambrian jungle left in eastern Tennessee. The Russian village in Colorado has been mentioned, and the French trading-post in the Middle West. In some cases sections of the oscillating time-paths remained in new positions, remote from their points of origin.

That is the cause of the utter disappearance of Rio and Tokyo. Where Rio stood an untouched jungle remains. It is of our own geological period, but it is simply from a path in time in which Rio de Janeiro never happened to be built. On the site of Tokyo stands a forest of extraordinarily primitive type, about which botanists and paleontologists still debate. Somewhere, in some space and time, Tokyo and Rio yet exist and their people still live on. But Detroit . . . .

We still do not understand what happened to Detroit. It was upon an oscillating fragment of earth. It vanished from our time, and it returned to our time. But its inhabitants did not come back with it. The city was empty; deserted as if the hundreds of thousands of human beings who lived in it had simply evaporated into the air. There have been some few signs of struggle seen, but they may have been the result of panic. The city of Detroit returned to its own space and time untouched, unharmed, unlooted and undisturbed. But no living thing, not even a domestic animal or a caged bird, was in it when it came back. We do not understand that at all.

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  • Thanks. This is the one. Off to get a copy. Ha. I just noticed that I even mostly remembered the proper timeline for the forest...Pre-cambiran or post-cambrian...what's a few million years between friends? Jan 26, 2014 at 0:34
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This sounds like Sidewise in Time by Murray Leinster from 1934. The part about Detroit returning empty rings a bell.

Wiki Site

Chapter 14 explaining about Detroit, Rio & Tokyo

We still do not understand what happened to Detroit. It was upon an oscillating segment of earth. It vanished from our time, and it returned to our time. But its inhabitants did not come back with it. The city was empty — deserted as if the hundreds of thousands of human beings who lived in it had simply evaporated into the air. There have been some few signs of struggle seen, but they may have been the result of panic. The city of Detroit returned to ins own space and time untouched, unharmed, unlooted, and undisturbed. But no living thing, not even a domestic animal or a caged bird, was in it when it came back. We do not understand that at all.

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  • @ user14111 Silly auto spelling correct :) Thank you for catching the unwanted change. I just checked a download and confirmed this is definitely the right story as well.
    – beichst
    Jan 25, 2014 at 17:55
  • Thanks much. This is the story. It was one of the early stories that captures my fancy as a youth and it pops up randomly when reading other sci-fi. it is dated, but the classics are. Jan 26, 2014 at 0:34

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