Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System Part VI: The Effects and Aftermath By Stephanie Osborn
Excerpted from Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System, ©2017
By Stephanie Osborn
Images in this article are public domain, unless otherwise specified.
This whole collection of writings started off with an email exchange, months ago. Our illustrious hostess was part of the discussion, and expressed interest in my converting the info to one or more blog articles. Then, when the LibertyCon programmers heard about it, they asked me to give a presentation on same, which I did.
The presentation was a full house, and at the end, there was a request for me to convert it to blogs and/or an ebook. I asked how many would like to see an ebook of the material; virtually every hand in the lecture hall went up.
A little over a month later, with additional research under my belt and factored into the manuscript, the book has gone live. And as promised, I am providing Sarah a series of blog articles on the subject. This series of blog articles is only a small fraction of the material contained in the ebook; it may be considered in the nature of a series of informative abstracts of the information contained therein. For additional information, may I recommend that you check out Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System.
Part VI: The Effects and Aftermath As Told By Eyewitnesses
Eyewitness accounts—John Bradbury
“After supper, we went to sleep as usual: about ten o’clock, and in the night I was awakened by the most tremendous noise, accompanied by an agitation of the boat so violent, that it appeared in danger of upsetting…I could distinctly see the river as if agitated by a storm; and although the noise was inconceivably loud and terrific, I could distinctly hear the crash of falling trees, and the screaming of the wild fowl on the river, but found that the boat was still safe at her moorings.
“By the time we could get to our fire, which was on a large flag in the stern of the boat, the shock had ceased; but immediately the perpendicular banks, both above and below us, began to fall into the river in such vast masses, as nearly to sink our boat by the swell they occasioned…At day-light we had counted twenty-seven shocks.”
~John Bradbury, Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810 and 1811, (pub. 1817)
[A woodcut of the disaster wreaked on the river.
From the West Tennessee Seismic Safety Commission website: http://www.wtssc.org/newmadrid/ ]
Eyewitness Accounts—Eliza Bryan
“On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o’clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious [sic] vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do—the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species—the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi— the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed— formed a scene truly horrible.”
~Eliza Bryan, New Madrid, Territory of Missouri
[Forest debris left by the quake series]
[The terminuses of landslides caused by the quakes.
Photos taken 1904; the damage was long-lasting.]
Immediate and Short-Term Effects
- A seismic seiche (“SAYtch,” a standing wave, a variant on a tsunami) propagated upriver.
- Temporary waterfalls were created on the Mississippi River.
- Many houses were severely damaged and their chimneys were toppled in St. Louis, MO.
- New Madrid, MO was destroyed by shaking.
- Little Prairie, MO was destroyed by liquefaction.
[Liquifaction from a modern quake damages a railroad track]
[A 7.2 quake in California generates a seiche in a swimming pool]
Lesser effects included:
- Earthquake Lights
- Warm Water
- Sand Boils or Blows
- Seismic Tar Balls
- Earthquake Smog
- Loud Thunder
- Animal Warnings
- Ground fissures
[Photograph capturing earthquake lights — USA Today;
[Cross-section of a sand blow]
[A field filled with New Madrid sand blows — the light patches are the sand ejected by the blows]
[Ground fissures under a road in Baja California after a 7.2 quake.
[Clouds of dust raised by the 7.2 quake in Baja California.
This phenomenon, mixed with humid air, can form quake smog.
The Mississippi Ran Backwards
[The following quotation was taken from the historical pages of the New Madrid, MO website.]
“After the February 7 earthquake, boatmen reported that the Mississippi actually ran backwards for several hours. The force of the land upheaval 15 miles south of New Madrid:
- created Reelfoot Lake,
- drowned the inhabitants of an Indian village;
- turned the river against itself to flow backwards;
- devastated thousands of acres of virgin forest; and
- created two temporary waterfalls in the Mississippi.
[Some] Boatmen on flatboats actually survived this experience and lived to tell the tale.”
This is provided they did not tie up under the river bluffs at night to rest. Many of the bluffs collapsed, and landslides were common. Some boats are known to have gone missing, and many people that set out in rafts of timber intended for sale in New Orleans were simply never heard from again. It is because of situations like these that the actual death toll is not known…and likely will never be truly known, or even accurately estimated.
The Reelfoot Fault, a reverse fault that crosses the Mississippi River in three places, up-thrust its hanging wall, resulting in a temporary dam across the river. It backed up into and around the extant Reelfoot River, which had a marshy area near its mouth anyway. The area flooded, then the land shifted again as the upthrust block subsided, and the Mississippi River flowed on, but the land in between the Mississippi and the flooded area rose, which kept the water from flowing back out again. The result was a permanent, extensive but shallow lake with considerable surrounding marshland. Today it is known as Reelfoot Lake, purportedly after a Native American legend.
[Reelfoot Lake, modern day]
The Mississippi River and immediate-area tributaries rerouted: Oxbow meanders were cut off, becoming lakes and ponds; peninsulas were cut off from the mainland to form islands; numerous existing islands sank into the river; and new islands formed from the uplifts and cut-offs.
Little Prairie, MO was wiped off the map, and never rebuilt. Reportedly several Indian villages were also wiped out, including Tuckhabatchee in Alabama.
- 31 October 1895, Charleston, MO, magnitude 6.6, New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ).
- 9 November 1968, Dale, IL, magnitude 5.4, NMSZ.
- 18 June 2002, Evansville, IN, magnitude 4.6, Wabash Valley Seismic Zone (WVSZ).
- 18 April 2008, Evansville, IN, magnitude 5.4, WVSZ—This one had two moderate aftershocks within 3 days, 4.6 and 4.0.
Per Wikipedia: “Instruments were installed in and around the area in 1974 to closely monitor seismic activity. Since then, more than 4,000 earthquakes have been recorded, most of which were too small to be felt. On average, one earthquake per year is large enough to be felt in the area.”
To obtain a copy of Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System by Stephanie Osborn, go to: