Some of the most severe earthquakes in the United States occurred not on the Pacific Coast but in the middle of the continent in southeastern Missouri near the town of New Madrid. There are many things that were unusual about the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812. The location is a surprise, the damage was catastrophic but we did learn from it.
Just after 2 o’clock AM of December 16, 1811, the Mississippi River valley was hit by an earthquake so strong that it awakened people in cities as distant at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia.(Page) This shock started what must have been the most frightening sequence of earthquakes ever to occur in the United States. The strong shaking continued through March 1812 and aftershocks strong enough to be felt occurred through the year 1817. The initial earthquake of December 16 was followed by two other principal shocks, one on January 23, 1812, and the other on February 7, 1812. (Nuttli) No other earthquakes have lasted so long or produced so much evidence of damage as the New Madrid earthquakes. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America’s top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.(Page)
The results of these earthquakes was devastating. Trees were up rooted and looked to be tossed around like toothpicks. There was wide spread damage extending from St. Louis to all the way to Pennsylvania where supposedly the Liberty bell rang from the strong quakes.(Nuttli) Thirty miles south, in the river town of what is today Caruthersville, Missouri, all twenty houses were destroyed, and the surrounding land was rendered almost unrecognizable. The ground rolled in several-foot-high waves until they burst, hurling up geysers of water, sand, and a charcoal-like substance. Giant fissures swallowed buildings, along with anyone... [continues]
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