Transcript for Hidden Fury, segment 02 of 11

{{{December 16, 1811, 2:15 in the morning}}}

On a clear winter night, the sky above the earthquake zone lit up with what looked like lightning. Below, a massive temblor with a magnitude of eight or higher struck near Marked Tree. A month later, another jolt as strong as the first struck near New Madrid. Incredibly, a third great quake, the strongest yet, rocked the area just fifteen days later. Between these shocks and for months afterward, the earth trembled constantly. Earthquakes were so frequent, an observer wrote, the Earth was in continual agitation, visibly waving as a gentle sea.

The Mississippi River was profoundly disrupted by the earthquakes.

There are stories in the eighteen eleven earthquake that the very calm Mississippi River suddenly had rapids in several areas along it. If a fault crossing the river moves, if it throws up part of the river floor, you will have rapids. You will, in fact - there were also stories that the river ran backwards in a few points.

The eyewitness accounts from eighteen eleven and twelve indicate that the river was essentially unnavigable. There were vast amounts of, of downed trees and debris floating in the river. The banks had caved. Sand bars that, that used to be in one location perhaps sunk, and others rose in other areas so that the entire character of the river was fundamentally different.


The quakes caused large tracts of land to warp upward while other tracts sank down. Real Foot Lake near New Madrid was created when the land heaved up and dammed a running creek. When it was all over, an area the size of Tennessee bore the effects of the earthquakes. Buildings were damaged over an area as vast as the state of Texas.

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