By GLENDA CAUDLE Special Features Editor The earth is moving. And it’s not simply spinning through space. It’s also moving from the inside out. Just ask the residents of Japan. Or New Zealand. Or Haiti. Or check with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium. Brian Blake, a CUSEC spokesman from Memphis, addressed a large group of Obion County and Fulton (Ky.) County residents, plus some visitors from as far away as Dyersburg, at Wednesday night’s earthquake preparedness session at Fulton First United Methodist Church. His job is to familiarize residents of this earthquake-prone area with facts that can protect them during and after an earthquake. Two hundred years ago, frontiersmen who were just settling the area and Indians who had lived here for hundreds of years were shaken by the antics of the New Madrid earthquakes. The quakes were named for the town of New Madrid, Mo., which was the largest settled area on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Natchez, Miss., but the effects spread as far away as Boston, where church bells clanged when the earth’s crust danced, and water in the Gulf of Mexico dipped in homage to the mighty shifting of the earth’s interior plates. The effects were noticeable even in Canada. While the major damage occurred during a quake on Dec. 16, 1811, in northeast Arkansas, a second in Missouri on Jan. 23, 1812, and a third along the Reelfoot Lake fault in this area of Tennessee on Feb. 7, 1812, aftershocks were associated with each and these unsettling events continued until mid-March of 1812. According to an online report from the United States Geological Survey: “The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall — bending the trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hillslides; 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. Surface fault rupturing from these earthquakes has not been detected and was not reported, however. The region most seriously affected was characterized by raised or sunken lands, fissures, sinks, sand blows and large landslides that covered an area of 78,000-129,000 square kilometers, extending from Cairo, Ill., to Memphis and from Crowley’s Ridge in northeastern Arkansas to Chickasaw Bluffs, Tennessee. 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, St. Louis and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.” In the absence of seismographs to register the magnitude of the quakes, researchers have been forced to rely on journals, newspaper reports and other accounts of damage. From this information, scientists have assigned an M7.7 level for the first, an M7.5 for the second and another M7.7 for the third. Blake explained to the group assembled Wednesday night that the earthquake magnitude scale ranges from 1 to 10. The intensity of an earthquake is what someone experiences in their particular location at the time the earthquake strikes. So residents of Obion and Fulton counties would experience greater intensity from another M7.7 New Madrid earthquake than citizens living many miles away. Blake added that when the next major earthquake occurs — and scientists are adamant that one will happen, even if they cannot predict the date — damage in this area will be different from that in some other locales. That is because the mighty Mississippi River has deposited so much sandy soil for miles inland along its length.
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