“There was a great shaking of the earth this morning. Tables and chairs turned over and knocked around – all of us knocked out of bed. The roar I thought would leave us deaf if we lived. . . . when you could hear, all you could hear was screams from people and animals. It was the worst thing that I have ever witnessed. It was still dark and you could not see nothing. . . . I don’t know how we lived through it. . . . we was all banged up and some of us knocked out for a while and blood was everywhere.”
This account was not from a survivor of the Haiti earthquake, last year, nor of the recent earthquakes in Japan, or New Zealand. These were the words of George Heinrich Crist, an 1811 resident of Nelson County, Kentucky, near the present location of Louisville. He was describing his experience during the first of several earthquakes that struck the region between December 1811 and February 1812, from a point well over 200 miles from the epicenter, near New Madrid, Mou.
Eliza Bryan, a survivor of the quake near New Madrid, later described the air as being “saturated with sulphurious vapor,” and the waters of the Mississippi River “gathering up like a mountain,” then overflowing its banks with a “retrograde current” and with such force as to tear moored boats away and drive some as far as a quarter mile up a creek, and then receding “with such violence, that it took with it whole groves of young cottonwood trees... The earth was horribly torn to pieces – the surface of hundreds of acres was, from time to time, covered, in various depths, by the sand from the fissures, some of which closed up immediately after they had vomited forth their sand and water.”
Included in the permanent effects of the quakes were large areas of uplifted land, the disappearance of whole islands in the river, and the creation of Reelfoot Lake, in northwestern Tennessee. Remarkably, even though the town of New Madrid was nearly destroyed in the last quake, there was very little loss of life, primarily due to the sparseness of the population in the area at that time.
However, general consensus among geologists is that there is just a matter of time before another episode of similar dynamics occurs. And this time, because of the vast difference in population, the effects will be far more devastating.
In the publication, Land Lines (Vol. X, No. 1), Michael Bruce Dougan is quoted as stating “If another quake of the magnitude of the New Madrid Quake of 1811 should hit the region (today), it would be the worst natural disaster in American history. Especially vulnerable are buildings of brick and concrete. Almost all of downtown Memphis would fall. The highways and interstate systems would be shattered and bridges destroyed. Massive gas line ruptures would threaten life and property... Overall the loss of life could run into the hundreds of thousands.”
In a recent presentation, John Heltzel, the Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM) director, stated that a similar New Madrid earthquake, would damage approximately 68,500 buildings and over 250 bridges, leaving more than 76,000 households without potable water service and nearly 330,000 households without electric power, just on day one. An estimated 435 25-ton truckloads of commodities (water, ice, and ready-to-eat meals) will be required to support the at risk population. And approximately 235,000 people will be seeking shelter.
Therefore, the KYEM, its federal partners, state and local officials, including the local emergency management agency and Clark County Health Department, private sector and non-governmental organizations will collaborate with the 2011 National Level Exercise (NLE 2011), during the week of May 16-20. The NLE 2011 will simulate the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central United States region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
Because the response to such a catastrophe will necessitate the involvement of volunteer organizations, our Clark County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) will begin a training initiative with the American Red Cross (ARC) to gain the skills for operating shelters in such times of need. The first orientation provided by the ARC will be Monday, May 23, at 6 p.m. If you might have an interest in participating or if you have any questions about joining the MRC as a volunteer, you may contact Jim Cowan at 744-1488, or by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is also available online at www.medicalreservecorps.gov.
For more information on preparing for an earthquake and other emergencies, please visit www.kyem.ky.gov/programs/earthquake
Clark County Health Department is a proud partner and community leader for the MRC. For more information about the MRC or other health department services visit our website at www.clarkhealthdept.org.