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EQ 1812 Earthquake causes Mississippi River Tsunami to flow backwards
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Sandhills North Carolina

    1812 Earthquake causes Mississippi River Tsunami to flow backwards

    7th of February 1812 Earthquake causes fluvial (river) tsunami in Mississippi.

    The most violent of a series of earthquakes near Missouri causes a so-called fluvial tsunami in the Mississippi River, actually making the river run backward for several hours. The series of tremors, which took place between December 1811 and March 1812, were the most powerful in the history of the United States.

    The unusual seismic activity began at about 2 a.m. on December 16, 1811, when a strong tremor rocked the New Madrid region. The city of New Madrid, located near the Mississippi River, had about 1,000 residents at the time, mostly farmers, hunters and fur trappers.

    At 7:15 a.m., an even more powerful quake erupted, now estimated to have had a magnitude of 8.6. This tremor literally knocked people off their feet and many people experienced nausea from the extensive rolling of the earth. Given that the area was sparsely populated and there weren’t many multi-story structures, the death toll was relatively low. However, the quake did cause landslides that destroyed several communities, including Little Prairie, Missouri.

    The earthquake also caused fissures–some as much as several hundred feet long–to open on the earth’s surface. Large trees were snapped in two. Sulfur leaked out from underground pockets and river banks vanished, flooding thousands of acres of forests. On January 23, 1812, an estimated 8.4-magnitude quake struck in nearly the same location, causing disastrous effects. Reportedly, the president’s wife, Dolley Madison, was awoken by the tremor in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the death toll was smaller, as most of the survivors of the first earthquake were now living in tents, in which they could not be crushed.

    The strongest of the tremors followed on February 7. This one was estimated at an amazing 8.8-magnitude and was probably one of the strongest quakes in human history. Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared. Large lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri state line, were created by the earthquake as river water poured into new depressions.

    This series of large earthquakes ended in March, although there were aftershocks for a few more years. In all, it is believed that approximately 1,000 people died because of the earthquakes, though an accurate count is difficult to determine because of a lack of an accurate record of the Native American population in the area at the time.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Portland, Oregon
    Quote Originally Posted by NC Susan View Post
    The series of tremors, which took place between December 1811 and March 1812, were the most powerful in the history of the United States.
    Not so much. Unless you don't consider Alaska even after 1959 as part of the US. The 1964 earthquake was a 9.2 and there was an 8.7 out in the Aleutians in 1965. If the author was more careful in their phrasing they might have more accurately said "the most powerful in the lower 48 states since the US became a country." Their original statement would be even more wildly inaccurate if you include the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes which took place before the US officially became a country.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Portland, Oregon
    Since I did check my notes:

    Below is a list of 8.0 or larger earthquakes (listed by magnitude, with highest at the top of the list) in the US or in areas that not much later became part of the US. I didn't include a bunch of 7.0-7.9 events and some of the largest New Madrid events fall into that range. By the way, that 8.8 magnitude mentioned in the OP is the highest estimate for one of the New Madrid events but as far as I know that magnitude is by no means considered the most likely number.


    1964/03/27 - 9.2 earthquake in Alaska (80 miles east of Anchorage in Prince William Sound), 117 died, was the most violent earthquake in US history, lasted five minutes and generated lethal tsunamis on the West Coast, apparently lifted ground in Texas (Houston) and in Florida (Cape Canaveral), known as the "Good Friday Earthquake"

    1700/01/26 - 9.0 earthquake (estimated) in the Pacific Northwest (off the coast, Cascadia Subduction Zone), the entire fault went, caused a tsunami in Japan

    1957/03/09 - 8.8 earthquake in Alaska (mid-Aleutian Islands - Andreanof Islands)

    1965/02/04 - 8.7 earthquake in Alaska (western Aleutian Islands - Rat Islands), generated a tsunami across much of the Pacific ocean

    1957/03/09 - 8.6 earthquake in Alaska (mid-Aleutian Islands - Andreanof Islands), generated a 15 meter tsunami that hit Hawaii

    1938/11/10 - 8.2 earthquake in Alaska (eastern Aleutian Islands - Shumagin Islands)

    1946/04/01 - 8.1 earthquake in Alaska (mid-Aleutian Islands - Unimak Island), 159 died in Hawaii, 5 in Alaska, and 1 in California from tsunami (one source said the tsunami was 12 meters high in Hawaii with an 8 meter tsunami at Hilo, where 159 died), called the "April Fools Day Tsunami" because many people thought it was an April Fools Day prank (Wikipedia says 8.6)

    1899/09/10 - 8.0 earthquake in Alaska (southeastern - Yakutat Bay), parts of Disenchantment Bay were raised 47 feet 4 inches and (according to Wikipedia) is the greatest recorded vertical displacement by an earthquake

    1957/01/09 - 7.9 earthquake in California (southern - Fort Tejon), included because it's not Alaska or the Cascadia Subduction Zone


    1812/02/07 - 8.0 and 7.7 earthquakes (estimated) in Missouri (New Madrid), caused bells to ring in New England and temporarily reversed the flow of the Mississippi River, one source said this one was the worst of the series and when it was finally over there had been over 2,000 noticeable and distinct events

    1811/12/16 - 7.2 and 8.1 earthquakes (estimated) in Missouri (New Madrid), one source said the 8.1 was actually three separate 8.0-range earthquakes with the first one at 2:00 a.m., the second one at 7:00 a.m., and the third one at 11:00 a.m.)

    1812/01/23 - 7.0-7.8 earthquake in Missouri (New Madrid), the third principal shock of the 1811-1812 sequence
    Last edited by tanstaafl; 02-14-2018 at 01:26 AM. Reason: figured I'd point out Fort Tejon is in southern CA


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