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The Earth and its heebie-jeebie shakes

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By Kirsten Peters

Not all Midwesterners realize they live in a region where earthquakes can strike, but they got a small reminder of that simple fact earlier this month when a 3.8 Richter scale temblor struck in northern Illinois. Let’s hope we can learn more from the event than just what the passing headlines might lead us to think about — because the center of our country is woefully under-prepared for much larger quakes yet to come.

That little Illinois temblor reminded me of the Big One that struck in the Midwest in the winter of 1811-1812. The quake was really four enormous events that occurred in and around what’s now Missouri over three months. Some of these mega-quakes were felt as far away as the East Coast where church bells rang! The Mississippi ran backward for a time due to the shaking and sloshing, and hamlets of the area were destroyed. The shape of the land itself was changed for many square miles, some of it rising upward, some sinking downward to become swamps. The big quakes were accompanied by hundreds of small ones, and local observers said that at one point the ground simply shook almost continuously for weeks.


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