|The Mississippi River|
On the early morning of December 16, 1811, the tiny town of New Madrid, Mississippi, was struck by an earthquake. With less than a thousand residents in the area, there was little damage and no deaths. Then, a few hours later, between 7:15 and 8:15 am, another quake struck, only much larger in magnitude. This second quake registered an 8.6, knocked people off of their feet, snapped trees in half, and destroyed buildings in the area. The quake caused fissures to open in the ground, and sulphur pockets erupted. Thousands of acres of forest were flooded by the rise in the Mississippi river.
A third earthquake struck the same region on January 23, 1812. This one was slightly smaller, registering an 8.4, but causing the same type and amount of damage. Thankfully the death toll was lower, since the area was still recovering from the last great quake.
But the earth wasn't done with New Madrid just yet.
|The destruction of New Madrid, Mississippi|
The quake was felt thousands of miles away: In Boston and Toronto, church bells rang with the swaying of the ground; walls in Cincinnati, Ohio crumbled; sidewalks spilt and cracked like eggs in Washington D.C. In and around the New Madrid area, large islands in the middle of the Mississippi, once used by pirates, disappeared forever. Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake in Arkansas were created in one night, as the river flowed into newly created depressions.
|Damage comparison between New Madrid, MS in 1812|
and Northridge, CA in 1994
Aftershocks continued for several years after the series of earthquakes officially ended in March, 1812.
What was once the New Madrid area is still an active fault line. Experts predict that in the next 50 years, there is a 40 percent chance of 6.0 earthquake or greater on the New Madrid fault line, and a 10 percent chance of an earthquake between 7.5 and 8.0. An earthquake of 7.5 or greater in this area today would result in the largest natural disaster in United States history.