Are You Prepared

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”
— Ben Franklin

Today marks an important milestone in the history of Southeast Missouri, the 200th anniversary of the New Madrid Earthquake – the most powerful seismic event to ever hit the lower 48.

New Madrid’s population in 1811 hovered around 1,000: farmers and fur traders and pioneers, French Creole and Native Americans who used the Mississippi River for commerce and transportation. Accounts from people who experienced the quakes firsthand have a biblical flavor: The land undulated; chasms opened and swallowed horses and cows whole; the Mississippi ran backward; and smoke, sand, and vapor obscured the sun.

John Bradbury was on the Mississippi on the night of December 15, 1811, and describes the tremors in great detail in his Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810 and 1811, published in 1817.

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 to nearly sink our boat by the swell they occasioned . . . At day-light we had counted twenty-seven shocks . . .

Though many think of this as a singular event, it was actually a series of quakes. Five major earthquakes (believed to have been magnitude 7.0 or larger) occurred in the two month period between Dec. 16, 1811 and February 7, 1812. Several thousand  “smaller” earthquakes occurred during the three month period from Dec. 16, 1811 to March 16, 1812. These included 15 quakes of magnitude 6.5 to 8 (the size range of the 1989 San Francisco, 1994 Los Angeles and 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquakes) and 189 quakes of magnitude 5 to 6.5. Two thousand of these quakes were felt by people, indicated by crude seismograph instruments or recorded in personal journals in places like Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio (which are respectively 250 and 350 miles away.) In short, these quakes were no joke!

The New Madrid fault continues to rumble, but somewhat more gently. Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 12 of this year, USGS recorded six small quakes ranging from 1.0 on the Richter scale near Ridgely and Tiptonville, Tenn., to a 2.4-magnitude quake about 1 mile west-southwest of Blytheville. Arkansas has also experienced a large swarm of quakes around Greenbrier and Guy in north-central Arkansas, one a large as magnitude 4.7. By some estimates, we currently appear to be about 30 years overdue for a magnitude 6.3 (or greater) quake. What a frightening thought! If you live between Memphis and St. Louis, are you prepared? This morning I had the pleasure of talking at length with Susan Laughlin Perez who retired after ten years from the American Red Cross in Pasadena, California. Susan was originally from Illmo (Scott City) but spent many years living and working in California.  She was an Emergency Services Specialist, Disaster Instructor and liaison to fire and police in California (though she’s not a seismologist) Susan spent over ten years researching and studying earthquakes and how to prepare for them.  She is truly concerned at the lack of knowledge and preparation for a catastrophic seismic event on our New Madrid Fault.

Though Susan is a very upbeat person, I have to admit, the conversation scared me a bit. It is obvious that I am not prepared and that there are a number of simple things that I could/should be doing “just in case” an earthquake occurs. I also want to be sure that each of you has access to disaster preparedness information. Continuing Education is committed to making sure you can meet people like Susan (look for her earthquake readiness workshop on our website) as well programs like the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT.)  This program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. It is free to attend and more information can be found here

I know this is a departure from my regular blog posts but I couldn’t let this historic milestone pass without a moment of reflection. I have also been working with local historian Dr. Frank Nickell to put together a spring trip that will follow the path of destruction left by these earthquakes. It is AMAZING how much they changed the landscape. Along the way he will also recount stories of those terrifying months in 1811-1812. If you like history and have never gone on a trip with Dr. Nickell, you are missing out. He has a way of making the past come alive. Check out the website for dates and details!

Ok, time to change gears! It has been two weeks since I posted and we are on the countdown to Christmas. I couldn’t complete this post without adding something Christmas-related! If you know me, then you know that one of my favorite things about this time of year is the music…that’s right, I said it…I LOVE CHRISTMAS CAROLS! However, there is one that drives me a little crazy. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.-

-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &John.

-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your fun nerd fact for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting…also…if you one day win Jeopardy with this fun fact…please remember me!

Get prepared, stay safe and enjoy the season!


About semochristy

I am the Assistant Director of Extended and Continuing Education at Southeast Missouri State University.I love what I do and look forward to sharing the fun with you!


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