Rural Missouri - December 2011 - (Page 10)

A historic rumbling Two hundred years later, the New Madrid earthquakes are remembered as some of the most violent quakes in history by Kyle Spradley kspradley@ruralmissouri.coop O n the evening of Dec. 15, 1811, Scottish naturalist John Bradbury and a team of boatmen were headed down the Mississippi River. They stopped for the night and moored their boats on a small island just upstream from the Chickasaw Bluffs near present-day Memphis, Tenn. The group had fallen asleep for the night when around 2 a.m. they were awakened by “a tremendous noise accompanied by so violent agitation of the boat that it appeared in danger of upsetting. All nature seemed running into chaos as wild foul fled, trees snapped and riverbanks tumbled into the water. I could distinctly see the river agitated as if by a storm,” Bradbury later wrote. Bradbury and his team experienced the first of three major earthquakes to hit northeastern Arkansas and the Bootheel region of Missouri. The series of quakes took their name from New Madrid, the closest town to the epicenter. The quakes occurred on Dec. 16, 1811, and in early 1812 on Jan. 23 and Feb. 7. Modern seismic technology wasn’t available at the time, but scientists believe the quakes ranged in magnitude of 7.0 or greater and were the largest to hit the eastern United States in recorded history. This year and the coming months marks the 200th anniversary of these major quakes. In the coming days, Bradbury and his team counted 27 more shocks. In the next two years, inhabitants within a 200-mile radius of the epicenter felt more than 2,000 aftershocks. “The river had risen considerably and was covered with foam and drift timber,” wrote Bradbury. “We were on the river again, but it appeared impassable from the quantity of trees and driftwood that had lodged to the river bottom.” Few people lived in the region at the time, so it is hard to know how much financial damage the earthquakes caused or the number of fatalities that resulted. Dislodged bricks from buildings were reported as were toppled chimneys. Most nearby stone structures collapsed whereas many settlers’ log cabins withstood the violent shakings. New Madrid was destroyed by the third quake. What scientists do know is how widespread the quakes were felt across the country. People were awakened by the shaking as far away as New York and South Carolina. Newspapers in Washington, D.C., reported cracked sidewalks and church bells ringing in Virginia. Enough damage was reported that it prompted the Louisiana Territory’s governor, William Clark, who became famous for his exploration with Meriwether Lewis, to ask for federal relief for the inhabitants of the New Madrid area. “We hear anecdotal evidence about sand geysers blowing up from the earth’s surface and the landscape being enveloped in gases and dust,” says Joe Gillman, state geologist for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “We now understand this phe- image courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geology and Land Survey A wood carving depicts an unknown artist’s account of the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes. Most of the new settlers to the region had no knowledge or prior experience with earthquakes, so they fled the area in fear. nomenon called liquefaction. This happens when a saturated, sandy soil is agitated and then has a tendency to force water rapidly upward. These geysers can cause trees and structures on the surface to partially sink into the earth.” Along the Mississippi, Bradbury had witnessed banks and islands sloughing off into the river, but the quakes also caused the Mighty Mississippi to alter its course and briefly run backward. Changes in ground levels created temporary waterfalls and near the present-day Missouri-Tennessse border, the river shifted to the west, creating the 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake. Other effects to the landscape such as sand volcanoes and boils, cypress trees with two levels of roots, new islands and lakes and landslide trenches still can be seen across southeastern Missouri. The New Madrid area does rest along a fault line, but unlike the San Andreas Fault in California, there is no visual evidence of the fault on the surface. “The area is essentially in the middle of a tectonic plate,” Gillman explains. “We don’t have a situation where plates are moving against each other to cause the earthquakes, but we have deep ruptures in the earth’s crust that release energy at times in order to account for the constant pulling, stretching and moving our continent experiences.” According to scientists, this is just a repeat in a pattern of activity for the region. “Bigger earthquakes are very rare, but in a typical year, we see around 200 smaller quakes in this area,” says Robert Herrmann, a geophysics professor at St. Louis University. “Most of the shakings are not felt on the surface, and the number of them is significantly less than California, where they see 10,000 to 30,000 quakes a year.” Although it is not possible to accurately predict earthquakes, science points to a 500-year cycle of earthquakes equal to the size of the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes. Every hundred years a smaller, magnitude 6.0 quake seems to occur. The last big one to strike the region was a magnitude 6.7 quake on Halloween in 1895 near Charleston, Mo. “A repeat of earthquakes of this magnitude is possible and would have significant effects on a region much greater than Missouri,” Herrmann says. “We cannot accurately pick a date, but that is why we have such an interest in studying and preparing for earthquakes. We have implemented seismographs in several areas across the state and are always monitoring the data to better understand what is going on.” The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies suggest Missourians be prepared for earthquakes just as they would for floods, ice storms or other natural disasters. “Always have an emergency kit with flashlights, batteries, radio, food and water at your home,” Gillman recommends. “We have made upgrades to our state’s infrastructure to prepare for catastrophic events, but there could be disruptions in utilities, transportation and communication systems. Remember to look for ways to be self-sustaining for several days.” Adds St. Louis University’s Herrmann, “We can’t change nature, but we can prepare and be aware of what nature can do to us.” Several events are planned to commemorate the bicentennial of the New Madrid earthquakes. On Dec. 9-10, the Dixie Theater in New Madrid will host a 19th Century Eyewitness Theatrical Production and unveil the New Madrid Historical Museum’s exhibit about the earthquakes. For a list of events and more information about the earthquakes visit www.dnr.mo.gov/geolog or contact the New Madrid Historical Museum at 573-7485944 or visit www.newmadrid2011.org. 10 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://www.dnr.mo.gov/geolog http://www.newmadrid2011.org http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2011

Rural Missouri - December 2011
Table of COntents
Comments
Columns
Giggin’ on the Gasconade
A historic rumbling
Outdoors
Bent on perfection
Out of the Way Eats
Christmas country church tour
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Of two governments
Best of rural Missouri
Marketplace
Around Missouri
Neighbors
Just4Kids

Rural Missouri - December 2011

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