Earthquake preparedness important for residents along New Madrid Fault
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:03 pm
By: Glenda Caudle, Special Features Editor
Obion County Emergency Management Agency director Danny Jowers of Kenton, Fulton County director Hugh Caldwell, the Rev. Bill Tate of Fulton First United Methodist Church and Central United States Earthquake Consortium spokesman Brian Blake of Memphis
By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
The earth is moving. And it’s not simply spinning through space.
It’s also moving from the inside out.
Just ask the residents of Japan. Or New Zealand. Or Haiti.
Or check with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium.
Brian Blake, a CUSEC spokesman from Memphis, addressed a large group of Obion County and Fulton (Ky.) County residents, plus some visitors from as far away as Dyersburg, at Wednesday night’s earthquake preparedness session at Fulton First United Methodist Church. His job is to familiarize residents of this earthquake-prone area with facts that can protect them during and after an earthquake.
Two hundred years ago, frontiersmen who were just settling the area and Indians who had lived here for hundreds of years were shaken by the antics of the New Madrid earthquakes. The quakes were named for the town of New Madrid, Mo., which was the largest settled area on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Natchez, Miss., but the effects spread as far away as Boston, where church bells clanged when the earth’s crust danced, and water in the Gulf of Mexico dipped in homage to the mighty shifting of the earth’s interior plates. The effects were noticeable even in Canada.
While the major damage occurred during a quake on Dec. 16, 1811, in northeast Arkansas, a second in Missouri on Jan. 23, 1812, and a third along the Reelfoot Lake fault in this area of Tennessee on Feb. 7, 1812, aftershocks were associated with each and these unsettling events continued until mid-March of 1812.
According to an online report from the United States Geological Survey: “The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall — bending the trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hillslides; large areas of land were uplifted permanently; and still larger areas sank and were covered with water that erupted through fissures or craterlets. Huge waves on the Mississippi River overwhelmed many boats and washed others high onto the shore. High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared. Surface fault rupturing from these earthquakes has not been detected and was not reported, however. The region most seriously affected was characterized by raised or sunken lands, fissures, sinks, sand blows and large landslides that covered an area of 78,000-129,000 square kilometers, extending from Cairo, Ill., to Memphis and from Crowley’s Ridge in northeastern Arkansas to Chickasaw Bluffs, Tennessee. Only one life was lost in falling buildings at New Madrid, but chimneys were toppled and log cabins were thrown down as far distant as Cincinnati, St. Louis and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.”
In the absence of seismographs to register the magnitude of the quakes, researchers have been forced to rely on journals, newspaper reports and other accounts of damage. From this information, scientists have assigned an M7.7 level for the first, an M7.5 for the second and another M7.7 for the third.
Blake explained to the group assembled Wednesday night that the earthquake magnitude scale ranges from 1 to 10. The intensity of an earthquake is what someone experiences in their particular location at the time the earthquake strikes. So residents of Obion and Fulton counties would experience greater intensity from another M7.7 New Madrid earthquake than citizens living many miles away.
Blake added that when the next major earthquake occurs — and scientists are adamant that one will happen, even if they cannot predict the date — damage in this area will be different from that in some other locales. That is because the mighty Mississippi River has deposited so much sandy soil for miles inland along its length.
While area residents of this interior portion of the United States will not be faced with issues such as tsunamis — the huge waves that accounted for so much damage recently in Japan’s coastal areas — they will have to contend with the challenges of living in “gumbo.” The term is one Blake employed to describe the condition of local dirt, thanks to the “soil”ed gifts lavished by the mighty river. Given that situation, residents can expect to see buildings tilt in the event of a major quake as the earth shakes and the soupy ground loses its ability to support the weight on top of it.
What to do
Scientist cannot pinpoint the date or time of coming earthquakes; neither can they influence the earth’s determination to move. They can, however, offer ways to minimize the hazards citizens face when the events occur.
Blake pointed out that most indoor injury to humans in this area of the country will happen when items — particularly large pieces of furniture or equipment — begin to move as the surfaces they are resting on shift. In a startling video presentation mimicking an earthquake, he showed bookcases tumbling, desks sliding, copiers and printers bouncing and pandemonium reigning within a typical office setting during an earthquake. Securing items that can crash and hurt someone who has lost their balance and fallen to the floor or found themselves unprotected in an area filled with formerly friendly and familiar furniture can dramatically minimize injury and death.
He suggested bolting bookshelves and similar free-standing pieces to the wall studs and added that water heaters can and should be secured, as well, noting that not only is it important to keep the water heater upright and its energy source protected, but that the water in a tank that is saved can be used for drinking if other supplies are disrupted by a quake.
Blake added that furniture or equipment on wheels should have the wheels locked to minimize the movement they will experience.
Residents are advised to find shelter under sturdy tables to protect themselves from falling debris if at all possible and are reminded to “drop, cover and hold on.” This means fall to the floor or ground, get under something that can protect you and grab on to it to keep it from sliding away.
While a recent popular online source advises finding safety in an area next to a large piece of furniture, Blake said the chances of a wall or ceiling collapse that figure prominently in this scenario — with the falling structural pieces predicted to lodge against large furniture pieces and create the triangle-shaped safety zone — are not so great as the chances of items within a room shifting, so it makes more sense to take cover under the table and to grasp its legs firmly, moving with the item if it shifts.
If there is no nearby table or desk to climb under, drop to the floor near an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects and heavy items and stay indoors until the shaking stops.
Sleeping families are advised to stay in bed, hold on to that piece of furniture in case it starts to move across the floor and protect their heads and necks with pillows.
Don’t seek shelter in doorways, particularly if there is more than one person intent on accessing that same area. Someone will be left out in the cold.
Those who are outdoors when the earth shakes can help themselves by moving away from wires, buildings and anything that might fall on them as quickly as possible.
Drivers are reminded to safely pull over, stop and set the parking brake; to avoid bridges, overpasses, power lines, signs and other hazards; and to stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over.
Area residents are also reminded to have food and water sources available in the event the quake results in massive damage.
A gallon of water per person per day is recommended for each home’s supply closet. Preserved foods and the means to open and prepare them are also important.
The Great Central U.S. Shake Out is planned for April 28 at 10:15 a.m. in this area. This largest earthquake drill ever will help prepare area residents for surviving an earthquake. Information about the event is available online at http://www.shakeout.org/centralus/
Information on earthquake safety and mitigation is also available at the CUSEC website at www.cusec.org or by calling (800) 824-5817.
“What we do now before a quake will determine what our lives are like afterwards,” Blake noted.
Published in The Messenger 3.31.11