Watches, Warnings & Advisories for Sunflower Co.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Madrid, 200 Years Ago

Two hundred years ago today, December 16, 1811, the first two of several major earthquakes struck the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  From that date through February 7, 1812, four major earthquakes were recorded, with intensity estimated as high as 8.1 on the Richter Scale.  This series of quakes is the most powerful recorded in the Eastern United Sates.  Church bells rang in Boston, and sidewalks cracked in Washington, D.C., as the vibration propagated through the earth.

The New Madrid Seismic Zone remains very active even today, with at least six recorded earthquakes in the past week. 

Our vulnerability to earthquake damages are many.  Unlike severe weather, damages from major earthquakes will be very widespread, and likely catastrophic in an order unknown in our society.  Few first-hand accounts of the 1811-1812 events exist, and of those that do, most do not provide scientific data that would permit us to draw conclusions of what we might expect.  Frequent experience with other hazards like severe weather, tornadoes, and hurricanes, provide us more frequent feedback about how well prepared we are, or are not.  In the past two centuries, large cities and a multitude of smaller communities have built in and around the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  Most were built with no knowledge of - or little attention given to - the need to build in seismic resistance.  Our infrastructure of roadways and utility delivery pathways are vulnerable.  A repeat of the 1811-1812 events would likely devastate the Memphis and/or St. Louis urban areas in a way that would make the sufferings wrought by Hurricane Katrina pale in comparison. 

Doom and gloom isn't the point of this post.  Awareness of your surroundings, and of the history that exists in our area provide you the opportunity to assess your own degree of readiness.  Would you and your family be able to survive for one to two weeks without access to basic necessities?  Even if roadways in your immediate area are passable, shipment of food and other commodities may be limited due to damage elsewhere.  The 1811-1812 events occurred in the dead of winter.  You may be able to shelter in your home, but if gas and electricity are interrupted for days, can you stave off the cold?

There are innumerable resources for you to research ways for your family to prepare for disasters.  Learn what hazards exist in your area, and ask yourself how would you be affected by those hazards.  Even though your home may not be impacted, what are your options if supply lines are interrupted?  What are your plans to communicate to family and friends outside the affected area?

Web resource for the New Madrid Seismic Area and the New Madrid Bicentennial can be found at

Preparedness Information
US Geological Survey - Earthquake Information
USGS Handbook for Earthquakes in the Central United States (PDF file, 24.8 MB)
FEMA Earthquake Preparedness page
The Great Central US ShakeOut (Feb 7, 2012)

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