On Tuesday of this week, Feb. 7, at 10:15 a.m., more than 2.2 million people across nine states participated in the 2012 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, practicing the "Drop, Cover and Hold-On" technique advocated by authorities. Why did they pick Feb. 7? Because 200 years ago, the New Madrid fault line erupted in what some believe was as strong as an 8.0 earthquake. It was the third of three massive earthquakes along the fault line, the first of which struck on Dec. 16, 1811, followed by a second on Jan. 23, 1812.
According to the United States Geological Survey, on the basis of the large area of damage (600,000 square kilometers), the widespread area of perceptibility (5,000,000 square kilometers), and the complex physiographic changes that occurred, the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 rank as some of the largest in the United States since its settlement by Europeans. They were by far the largest east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada.
The area of strong shaking associated with these shocks is two to three times as large as that of the 1964 Alaska earthquake and 10 times as large as that of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Because there were no seismographs in North America at that time, and very few people in the New Madrid region, the estimated magnitudes of this series of earthquakes vary considerably and depend on modern researchers' interpretations of journals, newspaper reports, and other accounts of the ground shaking and damage.
The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall - bending trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hill slides; large areas of land were uplifted permanently; and still larger areas sank and were covered with water that erupted through fissures or craterlets. Huge waves on the Mississippi River overwhelmed many boats and washed others high onto the shore. High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared.
Only one life was lost in falling buildings at New Madrid, but chimneys were toppled and log cabins were thrown down as far distant as Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Imagine, if you can, what just one earthquake of that size could do to our area today, not to mention the multitude of aftershocks that would accompany the initial blow.
So, take the time to check out http://www.shakeout.org, learn how to prepare for such a calamity and what items you need to have on hand to make it through the initial stages of such a crisis. Being prepared isn't just for Boy Scouts -- it's for everyone.