New Madrid
Copyright 1999, Sam Penny


T+25 sec: New Madrid, Missouri has eighteen cemeteries in its immediate vicinity to attest to its age. Originally settled in 1789, it was totally destroyed and moved half a mile north to its present location after its experiences with the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Some in the town are proud of their seismic legacy, and several do a thriving tourist business based upon that reputation.

Madge and Homer Baldwin stand atop the observation platform jutting out from the levee looking to the south across the Mississippi River. "The old town was about halfway across the river, Madge. You can't see it now, but they lost half a mile of bank when the last big quake hit. Took the town right with it."

Madge pans the camcorder across the river and zooms in for a picture of the spot in the river where Homer says the old town was located. She will enjoy showing it to the women in their trailer park back home.

"What was it really like, Homer? Is it the same as quakes we have back at home?" Madge feels they have set the standard in Hollister, California, near the San Andreas fault, and she does not know much about New Madrid.

"Well, there must've been some kind of warnin' just before it happened, though it was two o'clock in the mornin' and they were prob'ly all asleep." A low rumbling sound seems to come from nowhere, and the surface of the water starts dancing up like a little spray. "The first quake was supposed to have happened down south of here. It wasn't nearly so bad as the last one that took out the whole town." Homer chews on the grass stem he had pulled a few minutes before and stares out across the waters. He sees flocks of birds rising from the trees across the river and from the island they called Madrid Bar to the southwest. "Yeah, I'd say it was like the quakes we have."

The S wave swept through the ground underfoot. Homer looks around and feels the jerking. "Why, I think we're feelin' an earthquake right now. It's sure like one of the bigger ones we have back home." He and his wife put their hands on the railing beside them and stare out across the river. "Can't see much happenin' out there, but this one's a humdinger."

He turns and looks back at the town. "Hey, look down there. Ever'one's running out. Take a picture of that."

Madge dutifully turns the camcorder on the crowds scurrying out of the museum where all the earthquake paraphernalia is sold. As she holds the device to her eye, she says, "Homer, look at that car bouncing all over the place, and that flag pole just bent in half."

The shaking becomes intense on the platform and Homer turns back to look at the levee. "Madge, lookie there at the cracks in the levee. Quick, get that. Hey, let's head back to the levee."

"I will if I can, but it sure is bouncin' around." She films the rock covering of the levee as it lifts at one end and then starts sliding towards the river. The stairs down the concrete to the shore line are pulled apart by the sliding concrete, and areas of mud appear in the cracks in the surface.

Homer continues to spot scenes for Madge, pointing out the three story brick building down the street that seems to be having trouble. "Catch that buildin'. I think it's goin' to fall." And fall it does, right into the cars parked next to it. "Wow, this is somethin' don't you think?"

"Homer, do you think this might get us on America's Greatest Video? Maybe we could win first prize for this." Madge keeps the camcorder going, moving from spot to spot as other acts of destruction tear through the city. Several houses are knocked off their foundations and sit tilted to the side. There are more and more cracks growing in the levee, and the road atop becomes uneven. But as the highest point in town, it is the best vantage place from which to view what is going on.

"Wow, feel that surgin' in the ground. It must be one of those surface waves they were tellin' us about down in the museum. I'll have to buy that earthquake book now so I can find out what's happenin'." Homer keeps scanning the area. "Hey, see that dog runnin'. Get a picture of it." The dog he had seen is tearing through town as if followed by a pack of demons. It is so scared it does not watch where it is going and runs into a wire fence, trapping its head in the wire.

Finally, after 70 seconds of shaking, the earthquake subsides. Madge keeps filming for a bit longer then stops. "Feels like the quake is over, and my arm's getting tired, so I better quit for now. Do you want to take some pictures?"

"Sure, let's just walk around town and see what happened." The pair find their way down the broken roadway to the street below and walk back towards the business district of the town, filming as they saunter along. They record damage from an earthquake of intensity level IX.