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By May 8, 2012 Read More →

The New Madrid Fault – Overdue for Another Quake?





By kappydell

The historic earthquakes of the New Madrid Fault in 1811 and 1812 were widely reported.  Striking with a magnitude of around 8, they rang church bells in Boston, caused the Mississippi River to run backwards for three days, and terrified settlers and Indians alike in the sparsely populated area.  While there were not many reports of fissures opening up, there was extensive ground liquefaction, during which the ground appeared to roll like the ocean, rising and falling, and settling into sinkholes.  There were landslides and uplifted areas.  Geysers of sand and sulfurous gases were reported so it is no wonder that settlers and Native Americans alike thought the world was coming to an end.  When the quakes stopped, some of the Native American tribes promptly attacked the settlers, blaming them for causing the quakes.

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, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.  Some liquefaction of the soil so disrupted the soil structure that land previously farmed was left totally unsuitable for farming.

Since the Mississippi was a vital shipping lane, the quakes caused massive damage to boats and rafts on the river, tossing them about like toys.  At least one river-boat captain reported picking up survivors through the area.  The wave surges, as a result to the quakes, destroyed landing areas and flooded those water-front storehouses that survived the shaking.  Trading posts, usually situated along the rivers for ease of shipping, were destroyed.  Islands disappeared, the river channel changed, and new lakes were formed.  Named for the Missouri town near the epicenters of the massive shocks, the quakes struck along a series of faults coursing through the Mississippi River valley from near Cairo, Illinois, to Marked Tree, Arkansas.
The New Madrid fault zone is six times bigger than the San Andreas Fault zone in California and it covers portions of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.  It extends 120 miles south from the area of Charleston, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois, through New Madrid and Caruthersville, following Interstate 55 to Blytheville and on down to Marked Tree, Arkansas.  It crosses five state lines and cuts across the Mississippi River in three places and the Ohio River in two places.
The biggest earthquakes in the history of the United States were caused by the New Madrid fault.  Now there are fears that the New Madrid fault zone could be coming to life again, and if a “killer earthquake” does strike it could change all of our lives forever.
The fault is active, averaging more than 200 measured events per year (1.0 or more on the Richter scale), about 20 per month.  Tremors large enough to be felt (2.5 – 3.0 on the Richter scale) are noted annually.  Every 18 months, the fault releases a shock of 4.0 or more, capable of local minor damage.  A 5.4-magnitude quake struck the town of Dale, Illinois in 1968.  A recent quake registering 4.3 along the New Madrid Fault on Thanksgiving evening, 1996, was felt by citizens in the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, Illinois and Mississippi. Magnitudes of 5.0 or greater occurring about once per decade, can do significant damage, and be felt in several states.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 500 measurable earthquakes have been recorded in central Arkansas just since September.  A magnitude-3.8 earthquake that shook north-central Indiana on December 30th is being called “unprecedented.”  It was strong enough to actually cause cracks along the ground and it was felt in portions of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky.  The recent Oklahoma quakes were linked to the New Madrid Fault system.

Other puzzling anomalies along the fault included more than 3,000 red-wing blackbirds falling out of the sky dead in the Arkansas town of Beebe on New Year’s Eve.  Large numbers of dead birds were also found in Kentucky right around Christmas.  Approximately 500 dead blackbirds and starlings were also recently discovered in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana.  Approximately 100,000 fish washed up dead on the shores of the Arkansas River just recently.  Observers are wondering just why all this is happening along the New Madrid Fault line. Coincidence?  Perhaps.
Things have been strangely quiet in the region since then until recently.  If a true “killer earthquake” struck along the New Madrid fault zone today, cities such as St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee could potentially be completely destroyed.  Unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration.
The possibility of a New Madrid quake has been and is currently under study by diverse agencies.  One of which, the Mid-America Earthquake Center University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois has been analyzing the potential threat for years.
Working with FEMA, estimates of losses in the worst case scenario were predicted as shown on the chart below, with the worst damages in the southwest part of the fault.
The below figures are from 1975 and would have to revised upward substantially.

————————–Northeast — Central — Southwest
Fatalities —————-1,799 ——-1,570 —–1,939
Buildings Losses ——-$32.9 ——-$28.7—– $34.4
Transportation Losses -$4.4 ——–$4.4 ——$5.1
Utility Losses ————$11.6 ——$9.8—— $11.0
Total Losses ————-$48.9 —–$42.9 —–$50.5  (all monies in $Billions)

This study did not include any information on the Wabash Valley fault, which would create its most intense shaking between the Illinois and Kentucky border.  On April 18, 2008,  there was a 5.2 earthquake with an epicenter 4.3 miles north-northeast of Bellmont, Illinois.  This was about 160 miles northeast of New Madrid.  The Wabash Valley Seismic Zone fault system extends from Gallatin and White Counties, Illinois and Posey County, Indiana northeast 60 miles.  It spans an area about 30 miles in the Ozark dome region, covering parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.  Researchers say at least eight earthquakes with estimated magnitudes of 6.5 to 7.5 have occurred there. The largest was centered about 16 miles west of Vincennes, Indiana about 6,100 years ago.  This fault zone is considered related to the New Madrid fault line, and a major quake now could cause major damage and loss of life in Evansville and surrounding areas of southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky.  Since the New Madrid Seismic Zone has no clearly defined faults, but rather a broad area within which earthquakes are expected to occur, estimates and predictions are extremely hard to make.

Today, there are more than 15 million people living in the quake zone.  If a similar quake to the Great New Madrid Quake hit, “7.2 million people could be displaced, with 2 million seeking temporary shelter” in the first three days, FEMA Associate Administrator William Carwile told a Congressional panel in 2010.  “Direct economic losses for the eight states could total nearly $300 billion, while indirect losses at least twice that amount.”

“Electric power would go out, not for days, but for weeks and months in the four state region,” he said.  “Municipal water systems, they all run on electricity, don’t they?  Well, people are gonna get thirsty.  You need water for firefighting, don’t you?  Second, all gasoline pumps run on electric power.  Same with diesel fuel.  So in terms of road mobility, of getting the relief forces in, and evacuating people out — no gasoline? The cascading failures go on and on.”

There are ongoing studies at the federal, state, and university levels, all of which would seem to show that preparing for an earthquake in the Midwest is a prudent thing to do.  With the New Madrid fault being larger than the San Andreas, if it ever cuts loose, damage will be severe indeed.  Although some sources say that activity in the area is decreasing, because there has been little deforming of the land in the fault area lately, the Geologic Service does not agree.  The New Madrid region is located in the middle of the vast North American tectonic plate. In contrast to plate boundary settings like the coasts of California or Alaska where continuous deformation can be measured at the surface,.  Some models predict that little deformation will occur during the period between large earthquakes in seismic areas within a plate.

The New Madrid seismic zone is a source of continuing small and moderate earthquakes, which attest to the high stress in the region and indicate that the processes that produced the large earthquakes over the previous 4,500 years, are still operating.  It is the most seismically active area of the United States east of the Rockies. There is no sign that the rate of these smaller earthquakes is decreasing with time, as would be expected if they were aftershocks of the 1811–12 earthquakes.

Based on this history of past earthquakes, the USGS estimates the chance of having an earthquake similar to one of the 1811–12 sequence in the next 50 years is about 7 to 10 percent, and the chance of having a magnitude 6 or larger earthquake in 50 years is 25 to 40 percent.  A repeat event could be expected to produce similar effects in northeastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, western Tennessee and Kentucky, and southern Illinois.

Jeremy Heidt of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says that life in the region would be instantly transformed in the event of a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

“All communications would be out.  All air travel would be out as the FAA air control would go down. All rail travel would fail. Ports would shut down; oil and natural gas pipelines could be off line.”

According to a recent study by the University of Illinois, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid fault would leave 3,500 people dead, more than 80,000 injured and more than 7 million homeless.

Roadways would become impassible due to bridge failures and roadway destruction. Large quantities of water, sand and mud as a result of liquefaction could flood fields, roads, and disrupt agriculture for weeks to months.  Farmland flooding, in areas where agricultural chemicals are stored could contaminate rivers and streams.  Levee failure, especially during high water would contribute to flooding, and failures could make the Mississippi and its tributaries difficult to navigate for many weeks.  Cities would be severely impacted, with buildings falling in, since relatively few buildings were built using seismic-resistant designs.  Ground failures are likely to occur in downtown areas near rivers due to floods and soil liquefaction.  Memphis is likely to suffer major damage, but St Louis, Little Rock and many other small and medium cities would sustain similar damages.  Less damage but noticeable shaking would be felt as far away as Wisconsin.

One interesting theory is that the “oil volcano” unleashed by the BP oil spill in 2010 may have sparked renewed seismic activity in that part of the world.   Jack M. Reed, a retired Texaco geologist-geophysicist, has been carefully studying the geology of the Gulf of Mexico for over 40 years.  Reed is convinced that the Gulf of Mexico is currently tectonically active, and that the Gulf of Mexico is the source for most seismic activity along the New Madrid fault.

There are even some who believe that if a powerful enough earthquake hit the New Madrid fault someday, it could potentially alter the surrounding geography enough that it could actually create a new major body of water in the middle of the United States.  So it is not just California that needs to worry about “the Big One.”

If you are not prepping for a quake because you live in the Midwest, perhaps it is time to re-think your plans.  FEMA and local emergency management personnel should be focusing their preparedness efforts directly on the individuals in these regions, advising those who live within the seismic zones that in an emergency, no one will be coming to assist, or response will be limited.  But currently, the overwhelming focus of their efforts is direct response from government personnel.  Unfortunately, as we have learned from Hurricane Katrina, government response personnel will be quickly overwhelmed, leaving many people to fend for themselves.

A better strategy would be for people to prepare for themselves with a 30-day plan. In the event of an earthquake essential strategies would include but not be limited to:
Water and Food – have your own supplies, as more will not be coming in for a long time.
Medical Supplies
Disaster Tools
You should also consider what to do when an earthquake strikes if you’re outside, in your home, or in your car, or how to deal with critical rescue response if a friend or family member has been trapped under debris.  How are your search and rescue skills and your first aid skills?

An Emergency Evacuation Plan, coordinating efforts with friends and family outside of the seismic region would include preparing yourself and family for making an evacuation journey on foot, bikes, or four wheeled vehicles, as well as multiple pick-up locations where your contacts can meet you along your evacuation route and when (i.e. — within 3 days of quake we should be here, etc.).  Communications, when power is off and cell phone towers are overloaded, should be planned in advance.

Now is the time to start preparing by taking serious thought to the expansion of your prep plans to include earthquakes.  Because many believe it could happen at any time.

Just recently, this eyewitness report about what is going on in the heart of the New Madrid fault zone area was originally reported on another website:

I live on the new madrid fault.  And I can tell you this.

The surface rupture of the roads and highways is out of control.

Also, everyday of the week the structure of my moms home is “cracking” and shifting.  You can hear the walls and the surface crack.

Nearby is a dollar general store. In that parking lot there are 3 flagpoles that “vibrate” violently. (not shaking from wind)

Each and everyday, the roads “blow” up potholes. U.S. 41 is ruptured severely.

Interstate 65 is also badly damaged.  They keep trying to repave them but it doesn’t work.

The cline avenue bridge is closing.

This bridge and off ramps lead right into Inland steel and LTV steel and BP amoco.

So far, I believe 5-7 bridges have been shut down or are scheduled for closing because they are unsafe.

I monitor the earthquakes daily.  And as you know there are far too many happening too quickly.

I believe the general public has been misled.  In my opinion, the 2012 shift is happening now, but everyone has been conditioned to believe that they still have time to prepare for the main event.  Thats B.S.   It doesn’t happen all at once.

In Momence Illinois, some of the buildings are beginning to “sink”.

In cedar lake Indiana, the same is happening.

The bottom line is this:  Buildings are cracking, parking lots can’t be fixed, roads and bridges are closing every week, sidewalks are sinking and sinkholes are opening everywhere.  At any time of day or night, you can literally feel the earth “vibrate” below your feet.

I’m in Northwest Indiana, and I believe we are about to get hit with a earthquake of biblical proportions.  We are surrounded by propane, natural gas and bp amoco refineries.

And, I’m more than concerned what will happen when the New Madrid erupts.

best regards,



1. United States Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009-3071 of August, 2009
2. Alex Jones’ Prison Planet: Is the New Madrid Fault Earthquake Zone Coming To Life? End of the American Dream
3. US Geologic Service, “Historic Earthquakes”
4. Activist Post, Ready Nutrition Earthquake Preparedness Guide
5. … adrid.html
6. Report of the Independent Expert Panel on New Madrid Seismic Zone Earthquake Hazards, April 16, 2011
7. Mid-America Earthquake Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA “New Madrid Seismic Zone Catastrophic Earthquake Response Planning” Interim Report No. 07-03, May 2007

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4 Comments on "The New Madrid Fault – Overdue for Another Quake?"

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  1. I had read about this and everyone I told laughed at me and said it would never happen. I am glad you posted about this. It is very real. I can’t help but wonder if the size of the areas affected are misleading to. Perhaps the gov/media have lied about the timing as part of the population control issue? this would be a way for them to rid millions of people in the USA. Its a scary thought all the way around. Another thing to consider is the after effect of the people that would be involved in this. they predict 7 million people will be homeless so where will they go? Mass floods of people would head east and west and then what?? FEMA camps? They raid our homes for food? How do you think that would go down?

    • Snowleopard says:

      The latest studies show a large increase in the catastrophic effect of a major quake in this sesmic zone. Most media are quoting older reports. An excerpt from a later report:

      “Model results indicate extensive infrastructure damage, casualties, economic loss, and local flood risk. Direct infrastructure damage includes:
      Nearly 715,000 damaged buildings Limited medical, firefighting, and law enforcement services in the impacted counties of the eight-state study region Extensive damage to transportation infrastructure, including over 3,500 damaged bridges Severely inhibited road, rail, air, and river travel in the Central USA Substantial damage to utility infrastructure, particularly in the impacted counties, leaving 2.6 million households without electricity and 1.1 million households without water after the event Nearly 86,000 casualties, including 3,500 fatalities Severe congestion on major interstates in and around St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, after the event which substantially increases the time required to complete road travel Damage to utility networks in St. Louis and Memphis 42,000 personnel required for nearly 1,500 search and rescue teams (Types I–IV) Over 730,000 people displaced and 215,000 people seeking shelter immediately after the event, though over 7.2 million are displaced and over two million require temporary shelter three days after the event due to extended lack of utility services Approximately $300 billion in direct economic loss
      The extent of impact measured in this study is confined to the eight states near the New Madrid Fault; namely Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Both direct and indirect impacts are likely to extend far beyond
      the eight states modeled in this study, however. Many major pipelines for oil and natural gas that pass through the eight states experience damage and require thousands of repairs. The flow of these commodities is interrupted by the event and must be diverted to intact pipelines, if available. It is likely that the upper Midwest, east coast, and potentially several states just west of the study region are without adequate amounts of commodities for an extended period based upon the restoration and repair process. Power outages are likely to extend beyond the eight-state study region, particularly if damage near the rupture zone causes a substantial failure of the electric grid. If this occurs, lengthy power outages may persist over numerous states east of the Rocky Mountains.
      Major transportation corridors are interrupted by damage to key infrastructure. Extensive bridge and road damage limits the viable routes for transporting commodities across the country. Damage to airports limits business, freight, and recreational air travel as many major airports and local fields are inoperable, some for extended periods. Waterways are blocked with debris reducing the viability of major shipping channels in the US, namely along the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Arkansas Rivers. Rail lines and bridges are also damaged and transportation of goods via the rail system will be limited across the impacted regions. Critical routes will require substantial restoration, while those experiencing only minor damage may be restored within several days. Many other routes (road, rail, air, and water) may not be fully restored for several months. In some cases it may take years if the infrastructure is completely damaged and must be fully rebuilt.
      Modeling results indicate the truly catastrophic nature of the scenario earthquake considered in this study. Impact quantities will likely exceed those presented here due to uncertainties in the modeling and may overwhelm the response capabilities of local, state and federal agencies. Extensive federal and international resources and assistance will be required to respond and rebuild after a natural disaster of this magnitude. Some impacts may be mitigated by retrofitting infrastructure in the most vulnerable areas. By addressing infrastructure vulnerability prior to such a catastrophic event, the consequences described in this report may be reduced substantially.
      The resource gaps and infrastructure damage described in this analysis present significant unresolved strategic and tactical challenges to response and recovery planners. It is highly unlikely that the resource gaps identified can be closed without developing new strategies and tactics and expanded collaborative relationships.

      For the report summary (153pp)

    • Emily says:

      I so agree with your statements.  My question, How far West do we go to be clear of this planned event??