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As we've been watching footage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, one question that has come to mind is: Could something like that happen here, in the Mississippi River valley?
Short answer: Yes.
The Mississippi valley was the site of one of the largest quakes in North America, and many seismologists might say that we're about due for another one.
The New Madrid fault region is located along the Mississippi approximately halfway between Memphis and St. Louis. Here, in 1811 and 1812, three separate quakes hit, at least one of which was so strong that it reportedly rang church bells in Boston.
Other accounts, which quickly passed from "eyewitness," to "folklore" to "regional mythology," described visible waves four feet high rippling across the landscape, and holes opening that were so vast that the Mississippi ran backwards for three days to fill them.
A web site "The Virtual Times" has a short description and many links to eyewitness accounts, scholarly articles, photographs, and a wealth of other information on the New Madrid quakes.
For a good overview, again with many links and references, the wikipedia entry on the 1812 New Madrid earthquake is a good start.
And the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has a very nice discussion of historic earthquakes, including the New Madrid quake.
I have read that when "the big one" comes to the New Madrid Fault, there is expected to be severe damage in St. Louis and Memphis, and likely impacts felt from the Twin Cities to New Orleans.
Which reminds us once again that we're all one connected region.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.