Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Big One: At New Madrid?

A story by CNN points out that West Coasters aren't the only ones in peril from massive earthquakes.
Doomsayers have warned about the Pacific Coast for years. But only a few have raised concerns about an area with the potential to be more dangerous than California -- the New Madrid seismic zone in the center of the country.

It's a 120-mile-long system of three to five faults stretching from 40 miles northwest of Memphis to southern Illinois, near Cairo...

Scientists know little about how the New Madrid seismic zone works, but in the early 19th century, it was the source of the most violent series of earthquakes known in North American history...

Three large quakes happened in the winter of 1811-1812, and strong rumbles hit several times until near the end of the 19th century.

These quakes were felt keenly over more than 2 million square miles -- people in Boston, Massachusetts, felt one or more of the three main quakes, the first of which struck in three shocks on the morning of December 16, 1811.

Two more large shocks struck the area -- on January 23, 1812, and the largest and most devastating of all hit February 7, 1812, destroying the town of New Madrid.

By contrast, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, California, was felt over 60,000 square miles...

The stronger quakes lifted parts of the land high or dropped them down, and drew the Mississippi's waters in and threw them back far over the river banks. In some areas, the upheaval beneath the surface was so violent that it caused the mighty river to flow backward.

Whole islands in the river -- and entire towns -- disappeared.



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