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Speaking of earthquakes…

Meet my favorite doomsday scenario, the New Madrid fault. It runs along the border between Missouri and Tennessee. The chart compares the relative impact of the Northridge earthquake of 1994 to a quake along the New Madrid fault in 1895.

But 1895 wasn’t a biggie for New Madrid. Oh, dear me, no. We’re coming up to the 200th anniversary of the biggest seismological event in recorded history.

Between December of 1811 and March of 1812, thousands of quakes shook along the NM fault, including four spectacularly large ones. Church bells rang in Boston. The Mississippi River ran backwards for hours. An Indian village was swallowed whole. Reelfoot Lake, essentially a huge pothole, just appeared. Tens of thousands of acres of forest were flattened.

I’ve never heard an estimated death toll for these quakes. Many people just disappeared (along with their houses, in some cases — some cracks in the earth were five miles long). But that part of the country was very, very sparsely populated in 1811.

If it happened today? You could kiss Memphis goodbye, for a start.

August 24, 2011 — 8:27 pm
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