Shocked survivor stumbles over rubble of major Midwestern city.
Can a megathrust quake destroy most of Midwestern United States killing a million or more people and causing up to a trillion dollars in property damage?
Some geophysicists say yes—they warn that unimaginable catastrophe may be closer than anyone wants to believe.
Death on the rocks: The New Madrid Fault
More frequent earthquakes within the region of the New Madrid Fault have many experts increasingly on edge that another megaquake like the one that destroyed much of the Midwest during the early 1800s may be about to occur.
The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 were so powerful and widespread that if they occurred today the damage and loss of life might be incalcuable.
The earth shook with such strength that the Mississippi River ran backwards and shockwaves destroyed whole towns many hundreds of miles apart.
Today such a megaquake would devastate the most fragile parts of Twenty-first Century technology and the intricate clockwork that crucial commerce relies upon to provide goods to consumers.
Great Earthquake at New Madrid. A nineteenth-century woodcut.
Today such a megaquake could destroy much of the infrastructure of the middle US, disrupt transportation throughout the country, threaten the Internet and energy supplies, disrupt food distribution networks, and even destroy major cities.
Two natural events can take down the city of Chicago: a massive shockwave caused by a great quake or a gigantic Great Lake seiche.
“A seiche is a standing wave in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water. Seiches and seiche-related phenomena have been observed on lakes, reservoirs, swimming pools, bays, harbors and seas. The key requirement for formation of a seiche is that the body of water be at least partially bounded, allowing the formation of the standing wave.” [Source ]
A seiche hits a Coast Guard vessel. A mega-seiche would sink it.
Seiche’s can be caused by high winds or earthquakes.
If the New Madrid ruptures like it did 200 years ago Chicago could be a pile of rubble after the shockwaves bring down the skyscrapers and a surging mega-seiche swamps the entire city’s lakefront.
Seich map of flooded area along Lake Michigan. [Credit: Calvin Lu]
For months afterwards the city would be a death trap with exploding gas lines, outbreaks of disease and bands of roaming gangs.
Inland tidal waves, seiches threaten ships and coastal areas.
Much of the city would have to be evacuated and the dead and dying would litter the streets.
Toppling St. Louis
If the shockwave spares Chicago and centers on St. Louis, however, that city too would be reduced to a jumbled pile of debris.
An earthquake ravaged St. Louis burns to the ground.
Neither city has been built to meet earthquake standards and everything from the Gateway Arch to the suburbs would be decimated. For those structures near the Mississippi, the river would finish the job.
River seiche inundates suburban tract near Mississippi River.
While a seiche on the river would be no where near as catastrophic as one on Lake Michigan, remember that the last great quake along the New Madrid caused the Mississippi to rin backward and the force of the water would surge a small tidal wave of destruction deep into the heart of the city.
Crack of Doom
While some experts contend that the earthquakes in Arkansas and the 20 plus quakes (as of this writing) in Oklahoma—including the historic 5.6 temblor—are helping to relieve pressure that’s built up on the main fault lines, other geophysicists are so sure. They see the increased activity as a potential warning sign that a gigantic killer quake may be imminent and are warning people to be prepared.
US Navy expects megaquakes to change the coastline.
Jill McCarthy, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist was asked by News Oklahoma about the series of foreshocks and aftershocks occurring in the state. She stated that “Aftershocks are earthquakes too, but usually we talk about the main event. They just represent the cluster of activity that happens after a bigger quake.”
Often, aftershocks decrease over time, but sometimes they precede a great quake. “Whether or not a stronger earthquake is in our future cannot be predicted,” she said.
Aftershocks typically decrease rapidly with time, but whether or not a stronger earthquake is in our future cannot be predicted, she said.
Many buildings will burn for weeks, millions homeless.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also is concerned about a midwest earthquake producing mass casualties.
Some federal scientists have urged the government to be prepared and FEMA listened by taking the unprecedented step of ordering and warehousing over one million body bags…for use in the Midwest region.
The crack of Doom will come with little warning. It could have come today. And depending on the shockwaves and where they travel, many will die, while others remain relatively unscathed.
But the country as a whole may not survive the economic aftershocks of the quake. Many businesses will grind to a standstill and martial law may have to be decalred across several states.
As many as 17 states could be affected by a great quake hitting the region.
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