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New Madrid, MO Earthquakes 1811-1812

The Great Earthquake at New Madrid. A nineteenth-century woodcut from Devens' Our First Century (1877

On the 15th [16th] day of December, 1811, the first great shock of an earthquake occurred, that shook the whole majestic valley of the Mississippi to the center, and made the Allegheny mountains tremble beneath its gigantic throes. Its convulsions agitated even the waves of the Atlantic ocean. The subterranean forces which produced such results must have been of inconceivable magnitude.

The region on the west bank of the Mississippi and in the southern part of the state of Missouri seems to have been the center of the most violent shocks. They were repeated at intervals of two or three months. These shocks, in their terrible upheavings of the earth, equal any phenomena of the kind of which history gives any record. The country was very thinly settled, and there were but few educated men in the whole region who could philosophically note the phenomena which were witnessed. Fortunately. most of the houses were very frail, being built of logs. Such structures would sway to and fro with the surgings of the earth, but they were not easily thrown down. Vast tracts of land were precipitated into the turbid, foaming current of the Mississippi. The graveyard at New Madrid was at one swoop torn away, and with all its mouldering dead, swept down the stream.

Most of the houses in New Madrid were destroyed. Large regions of forest, miles in extent, suddenly sank out of sight, while the waters rushed in forming, upon the spot, almost fathomless lakes. Other lakes were drained, leaving only vast basins of mud, where, apparently for centuries, in the solitudes of the forest, the waves had rolled.

The Whole wilderness of territory extending from the mouth of the Ohio, three hundred miles, to the St. Francis, was so convulsed as to create lakes and islands, ravines and marshes, whose numbers never can be fully known. Some of the effects produced were very difficult to account for. Large- trees were split through the heart of the tough wood. The trees were inclined in every direction, and were lodged in every angle towards the earth or the horizon. The undulations of the earth resembled the surges of a tempest-tossed ocean, the billows ever increasing in magnitude. At the greatest elevation these earth billows would burst open, and water, sand and coal would be ejected as high as the loftiest trees. Some of the chasms thus created were very deep.

Wide districts were covered by a shower of small white sand, like the ground after a snow storm. This spread of desolation rendered the region around quite uninhabitable for a long time. Other immense tracts were flooded with water from a few inches to a few feet deep. As the water subsided a coating of barren sand was left behind.

Indeed, it must have been a scene of horror in these deep forests, and in the gloom of the darkest night, and by wading in the water to the middle to fly from those concussions, which were occurring every few hours, with a noise equally terrible to beasts and birds and to man. The birds themselves lost all power and disposition to fly, and retreated to the bosoms of men - their fellow sufferers - in this general convulsion. A few persons sank in these chasms, and were providentially extricated. A number perished who sank with their boats in the Mississippi. A bursting of the earth just below the village of New Madrid arrested the mighty Mississippi in its course, and caused a reflux of its waters, by which, in a little time, a great number of boats were swept by the ascending current into the mouth of the bayou, carried out and left upon the dry earth when the accumulating waters of the river had again cleared the current.

The following is from "The Great West." There were a number of severe shocks, but the two series of concussions were particularly terrible, far more so than the rest. The shocks were clearly distinguished into two classes—those in which the motion was horizontal, and those in which it was perpendicular. The latter were attended with explosions: and the terrible mixture of noises that preceded and accompanied the earthquakes in a louder degree, but were by no means so desolating and destructive as the other. The houses crumbled, the trees weaved together, the ground sunk, while ever and anon vivid flashes of lightning, gleaming through the troubled clouds of night, rendered the darkness doubly horrible. After the severest shocks, a dense, black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land, through which no struggling sunbeam found its way to cheer the heart of man. The sulphurated gases that were discharged during the shocks tainted the air with their noxious effluvia, and so impregnated the water of the river for one hundred and fifty miles as to render it unfit for use.



new madrid quake topic of discussion in earthquake engineering

This series of earthquakes at New Madrid were so powerful that chimneys in KY topped and church bells in Boston rang out. Earthquake energy travels much further in the eastern two thirds than in the western third of the US as there are far fewer fault lines to stop their propagation. These quakes average every 150-175 years so we are long over due. Don't be surprised. And major oil pipelines travel through this area to the Northeast. Another quake of such magnitude would keep the Corps of Engineers and oil companies busy for a long time and result in cold winters for the US northeast until reconstruction returns heating systems to normal.

New Madrid Earthquake

Another famous earthquake is that of New Madrid, Missouri in 1811, when during several months the earthquakes repeatedly, rising and sinking in great undulations. The surface of the ground was broken and great fissures a half mile long, from which mud and water were often thrown as high as the tops of trees.

The Landmark, Statesville, NC 15 Aug 1884

New Madrid Earthquake

The New Madrid Earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in the contiguous United States, occurred on February 7, 1812... It got its name from its primary location in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, near New Madrid, Louisiana Territory (now Missouri). This earthquake was preceded by three other major quakes: two on December 16, 1811, and one on January 23, 1812. These earthquakes destroyed approximately half the town of New Madrid. There were also numerous aftershocks in the area for the rest of that winter.

article | by Dr. Radut