The only natural disasters I experienced first hand happened when I was too little to know what was going on, and both of those have already been written about. So, I’m going to write about one of my obsessions. I’m not going to go into how plates shift and which types of earthquakes tend to be the strongest, and I’m not going to talk about my belief in the ‘earthquake storm theory’. Instead, I’m going to give you some facts that you may not know, ones that may or may not surprise you.
First let me remind you that earthquakes are a little different than most natural disasters. Avalanches and volcanoes can give off warning signs. With weather phenomenon such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards we typically have some form of advance notice. With hurricanes and blizzards it can be days. And I can tell you from experience tornado warning times have increased over the years. When I was a kid, sometimes warnings weren’t issued until a funnel cloud reached the ground. Now days, weather-casters try to give some sort of an advance warning. With the Alabama tornadoes Jennifer talked about the other day, meteorologists predicted that horrible event days in advance. They just didn’t know exact locations. Radar technology is so far advanced these days that most of the time warnings are given anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Of course, there is always that one tornado like the one that hit Joplin a few years back that comes completely unexpected.
Earthquakes don’t really come with warnings. Scientists are trying, but it’s hard to predict where and when and how big and without those predictions people can’t take shelter or evacuate like they can with weather related natural disasters.
Did you know that at the time of writing this there were over 37 earthquakes in the previous 24 hours over 2.5 on the Richter Scale? I’m sure many of remember the devastation of the earthquake that rocked Indonesia on December 26, 2004. It was 9.1-9.3 on the Richter Scale. Over 230,000 people perished that day, and yet it’s only #5 on the deadliest earthquake list. The 2010 Haiti earthquake ranks #7. That death toll is somewhere between 110,000-300,000. The deadliest quake occurred in 1556 in China. 820,000 people died, which I find jaw-dropping given the year.
The strongest earthquake ever recorded happened May 22, 1960 in Chile. The shaker measured 9.5. A tsunami, another natural disaster caused by an earthquake, hit parts of Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and cause major destruction in Hilo, Hawaii. Tsunami waves hitting the coast of Chile were reported as high as 82 feet! The waves from the December 26, 2004 tsunami were over 100 feet. The death toll during this particular Chile earthquake is uncertain but some estimate it to be around 6,000.
You remember when we were kids and everyone just knew that one day California was going to fall into the ocean? Well, in 2010, Chile was rocked with an 8.8 earthquake. It moved the city of Concepcion 10 miles to the west. Man, was that powerful or what? According to NASA, this earthquake may have caused earth’s axis to shift. And everyone seems to think our crazy weather has something to do with Global Warming, or Climate Change. Some say the Japan earthquake in 2011 shifted earth’s axis too. And if I remember correctly from my Geology course, earth’s axis has shifted many times over its existence, but that is another topic for another day.
Now let me tell you about a little known fault line right here in America. Of course, if you grew up in the area you’ve heard about it. And, I guess if you didn’t grow up in the area, like me, you might’ve heard about it. You might’ve heard some tall tales like, ‘Kansas used to be flat until that there earthquake shook the United States.’
I’m talking about New Madrid. In 1811 and 1812 a series of earthquakes occurred along the Mississippi River. They were so strong church bells rang in Boston, Massachusetts and in what is now known as Toronto. These particular earthquakes, although not the strongest recorded, were felt over 1 million sq miles.
Large chunks of the Mississippi River banks disappeared. One of the earthquakes caused the Mississippi to run backwards for a few hours. Travelers on the river were in for a shock when they found themselves moving the wrong way at a high rate of speed only to be swept back down the river and over falls that weren’t there previously.
These earthquakes were believed to range from 7.0 to 7.7. Due to the fact that the area was barely settled, loss of life was minimal and most deaths occurred from those on the river. Imagine if an earthquake of that magnitude were to happen today. To put it a little more in perspective check out the picture on this page .
Just look at all the major cities. Now you may be thinking that hey, the damage pattern doesn’t look that bad, but let me tell you something; one of the New Madrid earthquakes cracked sidewalks in Washington DC.
Here is a video that talks about some of the effects of the New Madrid.
Some say New Madrid isn’t active, but I can’t help wonder if it’s only a matter of time before it reminds people that it is active. And if it does, I can’t help but wonder at the tremendous natural disaster we as Americans will be facing.
You can find more information about New Madrid at the following links.