Though I live near a major fault line, I have experienced only one earthquake in my life that I noticed. This earthquake happened when I was in college. I was sleeping and heard a big, loud boom sound. I woke up and ran to the door to ask my dad what happened because I was living at home with him and my mom. I do not remember any shaking-just the noise and the utter shock. The terror of what it was came a few minutes later when we realized it was an earthquake. This earthquake was approximately a 4 on the Richter scale.
The New Madrid fault line is more active than the number of earthquakes residents feel and remember. There are typically about 200 earthquakes reported in the area each year. No serious damage or loss of life has happened along this line since the memorable earthquakes of 1811-1812 when earthquakes occurred often for about three months. The reelfoot rift that filled with sediment so many centuries ago lies under the New Madrid fault zone and causes major havoc approximately once every 500 years.
The area the fault zone covers extends into seven states including Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Mississippi. It has been stated this area is due for a major earthquake at any point. When I was in junior high school (about 1990), many parents kept their children home from school because they believed a scientist had detected the exact date another major earthquake would occur. The earthquake never happened.
Studies on this fault zone are conflicting. There has been a relative lack of minor earthquakes in this area over recent years that lead some scientists to believe the zone is going dormant. Others believe the lack of activity may simply be building up to make an earthquake more violent when it does occur. Land movement has been slow in this area for many years and some scientists believe it may be that the previous earthquakes were aftershocks from the 1811-1812 earthquakes. Because my family lives here, I hope the earthquakes have been simple aftershocks.
Having this knowledge handy does not calm fears within me that much. The recent deadly earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake less than 24 hours ago in Chile, any time the word earthquake comes across the news my blood runs cold. The earthquake in this area occurred almost 200 years ago but was so strong it caused the Mississippi River to run backward. There is evidence in existence of how the earthquakes changed the land structure two-hundred years ago that someone can visit now. In 1811-1812, this area of the country had very little population so comparatively fewer lives were lost. We now have buildings that are not suited for earthquakes, a much more vast population, and a similar occurrence would leave this area of the country devastated.
So, as I sit on my couch recovering from a pinched nerve and unable to really even be on the computer, I watch the video footage coming from Chile hoping it is not my area of the world that is next but praying for those affected. Disasters of all sorts can happen in our lives—cancer diagnoses, heart attacks, car accidents, etc so it is important to live life day by day but the images of the catastrophic damage done in these areas does cause me some fear.
If you live on a major fault line/zone, have the recent major earthquakes caused similar feelings for you?