ST. LOUIS (AP) — Just days after the 200th anniversary of a
series of massive earthquakes in southeast Missouri, residents woke up
Tuesday to a rumbling reminder that they live in one of the continent's
most active seismic areas.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of a
magnitude 4.0 earthquake at 3:58 a.m. was located near the town of East
Prairie, Mo., roughly midway between St. Louis and Memphis. Several people
in five states — Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee —
felt the quake, along with scattered people in four others, as far away as
North Carolina and Georgia, according to responses to the U.S. Geological
Only minor damage was reported, such as items falling from
shelves, broken windows, minor cracks in walls and sidewalks, said Amy
Vaughan, a geophysicist for the Geological Survey office in Golden, Colo.
No injuries were reported.
East Prairie City Administrator Lonnie Thurmond said the
quake lasted perhaps seven seconds.
"It seemed like everybody I've talked to, it woke 'em up,"
The earthquakes on Dec. 16, 1811, and Jan. 23 and Feb. 7,
1812, were among the strongest ever in the U.S., their magnitudes
estimated to have ranged from 7.7 to 8.1. Shockwaves spread as far as New
York and the force of the temblors reportedly rang church bells in Boston.
The Mississippi River reversed flow for a time.
Those quakes, like the one on Tuesday, occurred in the New
Madrid Seismic Zone, a 150-mile stretch between Memphis and St. Louis that
crosses parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and
Most of the earthquakes that frequently hit the zone are so
small that virtually no one feels them. Even a magnitude 4.0 quake is
rare, occurring in the New Madrid zone on average about once a year, said
Bob Herrmann, a Saint Louis University geophysicist.
"It's been a while since we had a good shaker in the New
Madrid region," Herrmann said. "It is a reminder that earthquakes occur
and we cannot ignore them."
Expert opinion varies on the likelihood of another big
Midwestern quake along the New Madrid fault, though many communities in
the region have taken precautions by retrofitting bridges and other
Earthquake drills are also becoming more common. On Feb. 7,
nearly 150,000 Missourians and hundreds of schools in the state
participated in a drill known as the "Great Central U.S. ShakeOut."
Experts suggest that the likelihood of a magnitude 6 or
greater quake occurring along the New Madrid fault within a half century
is somewhere between 28 percent and 46 percent.
"Unfortunately, we cannot predict earthquakes," Herrmann
said. "We can look at historical trends and say one should exercise some
caution and prudence."