Special Report: Could New Madrid “Big One” Shake Alabama?
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-When it comes to earthquakes, the “big one” could be coming soon, and we’re not talking about California or some place overseas.
Many people don’t realize that north Alabama lies in the impact zone of the New Madrid fault line, a sleeping giant that is approximately twenty times larger than California’s famed San Andreas fault. The biggest earthquake in U.S. history happened in the New Madrid seismic zone in 1812, and in just the last few weeks, activity along the fault line is starting to heat up. An earthquake centered in eastern Arkansas rattled residents in multiple states in late October, making the quake the largest in the NMSZ in several years.
A recent earthquake study conducted by FEMA rated 12 Alabama counties as code critical, with those in northwest Alabama at highest risk of a New Madrid event. Geologists and other earthquake experts assessed the potential impact on Alabama in a WHNT News 19 special report produced by reporter Nick Banaszak.
“I think most people are aware that earthquakes can occur here, but they just can’t remember the last time one shook them,” said Gary Patterson, a geologist with the Center for Earthquake Research and Information in Memphis. “You take the same magnitude earthquake, put one in California, one here. The one here is going to effect ten to twenty times larger an area. That’s incredible…We know that the earthquakes of 1811, 1812 were felt 1,000 to 1,200 miles away.”
The 1812 quake was actually the third and final act in a trilogy of megaquakes. The final earthquake had its epicenter in New Madrid, Missouri, a tiny town along the Mississippi River that inspired the name for the notorious fault line. Accounts of the 1812 quake vary since there were no measuring instruments at the time, but most geologists say evidence shows it was at least a magnitude 8 earthquake, and possibly a 9 or higher. The shaking was so intense that church bells started ringing as far away as Boston and New York. Chimneys toppled from the Deep South to Canada, and President James Madison was awoken by the violent shaking as he slept in the White House. Eyewitnesses said it even caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a time.
[link to whnt.com