Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On...

December 16, 1811:

These things never happen when it's convenient.

At about 2:00 on a quiet, cold winter morning, one hundred and ninety-eight years ago, the biggest natural disaster to ever strike this region came rumbling out of northern Arkansas.

By the time all was said and done, at least four major earthquakes and hundreds of massive aftershocks had rocked the region, doing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage (read that as "millions" in today's money), rattling buildings, frightening livestock, permanently altering the landscape, killing at least eight people, and scaring the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of at least three quarters of the then-population of the U.S. and Upper Canada. The disaster would take its name from a tiny outpost near the epicenter:

New Madrid.

Even today, the memory of The Big One still hangs out at the back of the minds of many folks in this area like a dreaded visit from a particularly vile relative. According to scientists, we're overdue for another shaking. So, what exactly are we looking at?

Well, here's what an eyewitness wrote on December 19, 1811 about quake number one:
"On Monday morning about one o'clock, the inhabitants of this place were roused from their peaceful slumbers by a dreadful sound...louder, than if 100 waggons [sic] were driven full speed down the mountain...the timid took to prayer, expecting every moment (as they say) to hear the sound of the last trumpet...A sudden trembling of the earth caused fresh terror and alarm...when we felt a violent shock, which lasted about three minutes, and was attended with a hollow rumbling noise, and ended with a dreadful crash..."

"While some of us were in the street, congratulating each other on our happy escape, we were again alarmed by a much louder noise than any we had heard before; it was quickly followed by a more violent shock, which gave the earth an undulating motion resembling the waves of the Sea; two of those who were standing with me were thrown off their feet, the rest of us with difficulty kept from falling."

"The fulminating of the mountains was accompanied with flashes of fire seen from their sides; each flash ended with a snap, or crack, like that which is heard on discharging an electrick [sic] battery, but 1000 times as loud."

So sayeth Mr. John C. Edwards, and all is well and good. But it's interesting to realize that Mr. Edwards was writing from Asheville, North Carolina - roughly five hundred miles from the epicenter.

Sobering thought, isn't it?

Next time, a bit more on the shakeup.

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