Tuesday, February 07, 2012

200 Years Ago Today

The last of the Great New Madrid Earthquakes

"It all started at precisely 2:30 a.m., December 16, 1811. That's when the town of Big Prairie, in the Mississippi River flood plain region located in the state of Arkansas, ceased to exist. The pioneer settlers of the village ran for their lives as the town sank and quickly became a part of the river. The quake that caused the destruction is believed to have been about 8.0 on the Richter Scale. It completely devastated the entire region. The mighty Mississippi churned into a virtual maelstrom as mile after mile of river banks collapsed. Two entire islands disappeared, one inhabited by a band of river pirates, who all perished in a moment of fearsome justice.

About 50 miles north of Big Prairie was the town of Little Prairie in the present day state of Missouri. The same quake shook the residents of the community, who grabbed their children and ran into the cold winter night, watching their primitive log homes creak and crack, ashes and coals from the fireplaces catching the timbers on fire and the town went up in flames. As they sifted through the rubble in the early morning hours, a second great shock hit around 8 a.m. that caused the ground to heave and crack. Fissures opened and slammed shut, exploding with spewing water and blasting carbonized wood high into the air. Survivors claimed the ground rolled in waves. An enormous crater developed outside where the town once stood on level ground while sprawling crevasses passed beneath trees, splitting them upward from the roots.

As the people stared down into the growing crater, they saw the dark, viscous fluids that gurgled as brimstone shot into the air. They believed it was the end of the world.

It was in fact, only the beginning of their ordeal. Amidst their terror, a third shock hit. The soil itself began to boil while water oozed upward and began to fill the whole region as the land sank and the Mississippi began to flood the horizon. Grabbing their children, they ran, then waded, then swam for nearly eight miles, battling coyotes, snakes and other wildlife that was forced to swim. They finally reached high ground near present day Hayti (pronounced hay-tie), Missouri.

Tremors continued. They became more numerous and stronger as the days and weeks passed until January 7, 1812, when another, though less powerful quake hit the area. Then at 9 a.m. on January 23rd, a massive 8.4 magnitude quake hit the region with renewed vengeance. The town of Point Pleasant in the state of Illinois collapsed into the Mississippi, though no one died as the residents had evacuated just a few days earlier. Sand boils created a natural dam across what was Reelfoot Creek in the state of Tennessee, creating what is a favorite camping and fishing area today known as Reelfoot Lake. Tremors continued uninterrupted day and night. By February 5, 1812, one resident noted the earth, "twitched and jerked like a side of freshly killed beef."

Then, the big one hit. At nearly 3:30 a.m., February 7, 1812, the most violent earthquake in recorded U.S. history hit the eastern half of the continent. It probably measured over 8.8 on the Richter Scale, or the equivalent of an underground nuclear blast. It's center is believed to have been under what is today an innocent looking rest area along Interstate Highway 55 between the towns of Marston and New Madrid, Missouri. For several hours, the earth shook so violently that the Mississippi River actually ran backward and waterfalls formed and lasted for weeks as the ground heaved in anger. Towering waves were cast over the banks and shattered trees along several thousand acres of shoreline. Riverboats were launched out of the river and onto dry land with an unknown death toll. In the predawn light, one boat was transported upstream, then floated down again, surviving one set of falls and then managed to steer ashore to the cheer of the townsfolk. No one else was so fortunate as 30 other boats that had been moored to the docks were smashed by the waves with total loss of life.

The terrified residents of New Madrid who watched the spectacle said the earth literally swallowed the river in huge chasms which then slammed shut, the water shooting hundreds of feet into the air like fountains."

The president was jolted out of his bed in Washington, church bells were rung in New England and it was felt from Cuba To Canada. Nobody knows how many Indian tribes were wiped out.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.