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Paramedic's Corner: Earthquake preparation
Paramedic's Corner: Earthquake preparation

Gary Carmack
Part I: The New Madrid Earthquake

It is a cold winter night. Sleeping snug and warm under your blankets something strange awakens you. At first you think you are dreaming. It is startling, the shaking. Your house is shaking for some unknown reason. You look at the clock and it says 2:00 in the morning. Suddenly, the electric goes out. You bump your shin as you get up and look for a flashlight, with a mental note to remember to keep one by your bedside for now on. The ground keeps shaking. What is going on? No news available because you never took those emergency planning guys serious, you have no radio with batteries. As you try to make some phone calls you find there is no land-line telephone service, nor any cell phone service. You notice it getting colder as your electric heat is out. What has happened? The floor seems to be trembling, moving, in a weird sort of way.

I recently attended an earthquake conference at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. The title of the conference was "New Madrid Seismic Zone Conference, Preparing for a Significant Central U.S. Earthquake." The conference was very interesting and quite enlightening. This report on the conference will require multiple parts. It will begin with history, descriptions of the New Madrid Fault, and potential implications for us here in Pulaski County, and finally emergency preparedness.

On the morning of December 16th, 1811, families in Tennessee, the towns of St. Louis and New Madrid in Louisiana (Territory of Missouri), as well as other areas were awakening to similar feelings as described above. Many of their chimneys would fall. As far away as the city of Washington (Washington, D.C.) there were reports of several shocks from the earthquake that were strong enough to shake the doors and windows. Tassels of curtains were seen to move and pitchers of washing-stands were heard to rattle upon their basins. The alarm was so great many people made searches from room to room, to look for the robbers who were imagined to have broken into the houses. There were reports of sidewalks cracked and broken in Washington.

It was observed by a certain Dr. Macbride of Pineville, S.C. that the earthquake terrified the inhabitants exceedingly. A small shock was felt at Detroit and Indians reported the waters of Lake Sinclair seemed to tremble, and boil like a great pot over a hot fire. In Savannah, Ga., the inhabitants told of feeling four earthquakes. Some sections of the Mississippi River appeared to run backward for a short time, there were reports of chimneys falling in Maine, and church bells were reported to ring in Boston.

One of this writer’s favorite eye-witness accounts is by a Kentucky Boatman to Mr. William Shaler, as reported in writing dated March 23rd, 1812 to Samuel L. Mitchell, Representative in Congress, New York:

On the 7th of the last of February, at 3 A.M., being moored to the bank of the Mississippi, about thirteen miles above New Madrid, he was awakened by a tremendous roaring noise, felt his vessel violently shaken and observed the trees over the bank falling in every direction…and many sparks of fire emitted from the earth. He immediately cut his cable and put off into the middle of the river, where he soon found the current had changed, and the boat hurried up, for about the space of a minute, with the velocity of the swiftest horse; he was obliged to hold his hand to his head to keep his hat on. On the current’s running its natural course, which it did gradually, he continued to proceed down the river, and at about daylight he came to a most terrific fall, which he thinks, was at least six feet perpendicular, extending across the river, and about half a mile wide. The whirls and rippling of this rapid were such that the vessel was altogether unmanageable, and destruction seemed inevitable; some of the former he thinks were, at least thirty feet deep, and seemed to be formed by the water’s being violently sucked into some chasm in the river’s bottom. He and his men were constantly employed in pumping and bailing, by which, and the aid of Providence, he says, he got safe through! As soon as he was able to look round, he observed whole forests on each bank fall prostrate…like soldiers grounding their arms at the word of command. On his arrival at New-Madrid he found that place a complete wreck, sunk about twelve feet below its level, and entirely deserted; its inhabitants, with those of the adjacent country, who had fled there for refuge, were encamped in its neighbourhood: he represents their cries as truly distressing. A large barge loaded with five hundred barrels of flour and other articles, was split from end to end, and turned upside down at the bank. Of nearly thirty loaded boats only this and one more escaped destruction; the water ran twelve feet perpendicular, and threw many of them a great many rods on shore; several lives were lost among the boatmen. Another fall was formed about eight miles below the town, similar to the one above, the roaring of which he could distinctly hear at New-Madrid. He waited five days for the fall to wear away; during that time the earth was constantly trembling, at intervals of about five minutes. He observed many fissures in the earth below the town, five or six feet wide, extending in length out of sight, and one side several feet lower than the other. On the fifth day he passed the lower fall which had worn away to a practicable rapid. He felt a succession of shocks of earthquake until he came down to Flam Island. He spoke of many physical changes in the river.

Several of the largest historical earthquakes to happen in the continental United States occurred in the winter of 1811-1812 along the New Madrid seismic zone, which stretches from just west of Memphis, Tenn. into Southern Illinois. The New Madrid Earthquake on February 7, 1812, is one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the contiguous United States. It got its name from its primary location near New Madrid, Louisiana Territory, as we now know as Missouri. The great quake was preceded by three other major quakes on December 16, 1811, and on January 23, 1812. These earthquakes destroyed half of the town of New Madrid. There were also numerous aftershocks for the rest of that winter. The only reason there were no great loss of life during these great quakes is due to a low density of inhabitation at this time in our nation’s history. This will be a different story when the earthquake strikes again. If another quake of the magnitude of the New Madrid Quake of 1811 should hit, many scientist believe it would be the worst natural disaster in American history. Almost all of downtown Memphis will likely fall. Many highways and interstates will be damaged. Bridges will be shattered and getting emergency responders to areas of need will be comprised. Major gas line ruptures will create danger to life and property. Communications will be disrupted, cell phone towers will go down, and land-lines will be disrupted. Amateur Ham radio operators may become essential for a period of time, as well as the CB radio. If the Mississippi is in a near flood state, levees could break, flooding large areas of Arkansas.

Why here, in America’s Heartland? The New Madrid region is far from any tectonic plate boundary. The nearest plate boundary to the New Madrid seismic zone is many thousands of miles away. Perhaps the earth’s crust is being deformed or strained. The answers to these questions are simply unknown. Next week part II, sand blows, how likely is another New Madrid Earthquake in the next 50 years?

Part II: Earthquake Preparation

How likely is another great New Madrid Earthquake? How do scientists make these determinations? Actually, earth scientists try to forecast these events as the chance of, or probability, much like meteorologists forecast rain and other weather events. This science is called “paleoseismology,” the Greek prefix paleo = old, the Greek word seismos= earthquake, and the Greek word logos = knowledge. This field involves digging and examination of rocks, soil, and artifacts found in sand blows and other sediment formations, looking for ancient earthquakes for the calculations of seismic hazard. The scientists who study in this field are called paleoseismologists.

Sand blows are patches of sand that erupt onto the ground when waves from a large earthquake pass through wet loose sand. The sand actually liquefies as water pressure separates the sand grains apart and mixes with water. This combination becomes like a slurry of sand and water and is forced to the surface. The paleoseismologists can dig to various sand blows and date the time of the earthquake event by finding plants, charcoal, Native American artifacts or various plant and animal remains to date the time. The readers can view these sand blows on Google Earth.

By doing this, scientists now know that we had a major earthquake, similar to those of 1811-1812 (see part I of this article) in between A.D. 800 and 1000, and again in A.D. 1300 and 1600, or about every 500 years. Scientists still are not sure why we have such large earthquakes in the New Madrid region, but due to research the last few years; many scientists estimate the likelihood of damaging earthquakes, at least as frequently as in the recent past. Here is a list of historical and recent earthquakes in the Central United States: There was a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Marked Tree, Arkansas on January 4, 1843 (this earthquake happened before Marked Tree was a town, the quake affected the sparsely populated Memphis region at that time, * see another interesting note below this paragraph), a magnitude 6.6 earthquake at Charleston, Mo. In 1895, a magnitude 5.4 in Dale, Illinois on November 9, 1968, and a magnitude 5.2 quake in Mt. Carmel, Ill. April 18, 2008 (this earthquake is part of the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone). The Mt. Carmel quake was felt in 16 states and in Ontario, Canada. With all of this new data scientists now estimate the probability of a repeat of the 1811-1812 earthquakes at (magnitude 7.5-8.0) at 7-10% in the next 50 years. They estimate a possible magnitude 6.0 or larger at 25-40%.

*The area around Marked Tree, Arkansas was sunken in (Sunken Lands) from the great 1811-1812 earthquakes. Also interestingly, Lake Saint Francis, Arkansas a 40 mile long, half-mile-wide Lake was formed by the great quake.

So the question our readers may ask is what will happen here in Pulaski and neighboring counties? First what we can expect in Missouri. Most of this will be to the east, St. Louis and on to the Bootheel. However, much of the impact to highways and other critical facilities, the economy, and societal components will affect all of us. There will be eight states affected from a major quake and Missouri and Arkansas will be on their own for awhile. Here are the Missouri estimated totals if we have another major New Madrid earthquake:

· Casualties: 15,000
· Displaced people: 120,000
· Damaged buildings: 85,000
· Hospitals damaged: 40
· Schools damaged: 180
· Power out: 150,000 households
· Bridges: 1300
· Highways: failure
· Cost: 40 Billion

This does not include levees that may break, runways, rail damage, oil spills, hazardous materials, the immense societal components, and the economy; which a writer could do an entire paper on. Retail is expected to be disrupted for 90 days.

If the Mississippi is at flood stages at the time of the quake, some people estimate as much as one-third of Arkansas could be flooded. There are landslide hazards, especially areas along river bluffs. Water quality problems, and there will be billions of gallons of ground water displaced causing flooding. Due to broken gas lines there will most likely be large fires in St. Louis and other cities…and no water to fight them with.

What we can expect here in Pulaski County: First an explanation of what will cause direct damage, then secondary problems that may occur. It’s the shaking; earthquake hazard refers to the consequences of an earthquake that might disrupt normal activities of people, or cause them losses—or loss of life itself. Most damage is due to ground shaking caused by waves that emanate from the abrupt fault movement during an earthquake. The ground shaking is a major concern in the New Madrid region because of a couple of factors. First our soil and ground composition is different from the ground out in California. Soft sentiments in basins in the Central U.S. amplify shaking and the ground motions just do not die off here as quickly as out west. Secondly, the mountains out west stop the ground motion, and we don’t have those. This is why in the great quakes of 1811-1812 the ground shaking was felt all the way to the Atlantic Ocean to regions far beyond the mighty Mississippi. How far west we are not certain as the west at that time were mostly Native Americans who did not record the shaking in records. There are verbal stories passed down by the Native Americans of the ground moving, rocks and trees falling west of the Mississippi. It is difficult to estimate the damage done to the Native American’s villages, towns, and homes.

There is a rating system by a method of which the epicenter and proximate areas are the highest hazard rated at the number of 64 plus and Pulaski County is rated at 8-16 or less. We can expect some minor building damage and might get what some citizens of Charleston, S.C. in December 1811 described as: “the motion (from the ground shaking) produced nausea,” in some persons. The secondary problems may be much more serious though. It is believed that virtually every bridge, with one exception, between St. Louis and New Madrid will fall. The one bridge that may withstand is a cable-stayed bridge named the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge built in Cape Girardeau, Mo.; however, the highway ramps on each end of the bridge could collapse. Interstates and highways will be damaged, not only creating massive emergency response problems, but as days go by interruption in trucking. Rail failure will add to the interruption in delivery of goods. You know what that means readers, decreased food and other necessities being delivered to our stores (more on this during my preparedness article in part III).

Most all communications will be lost. Cell phone towers will go down and land lines as well. Power loss can be expected for awhile. As far as emergency response this region will be a support and response region. Retail and trucking will be a major concern. As far as causalities, several factors are unknown. There are a lot of gas and other pipelines that travel through here. Also, chemical and industrial plants and factories, these are numerous in the St. Louis, Memphis region, down through Arkansas. If a major disruption of chemicals and depending on wind direction, it remains unknown of possible hazards here.

Now that I have painted this scary picture, next week in part III Earthquake Preparedness, what you can do for family preparedness.

Part III: Preparedness in the New Madrid Seismic Zone

Returning to the beginning of the earthquake scenario, the family who was awakened to the ground shaking and the weird motion; It is 3:00 A.M. and getting colder by the minute. The kids are now up and are expectedly frightened. You have no explanation, because there is no power to turn on any news; and worse yet it grows colder on the late December night. The telephones are silent.

As dawn begins the day, the situation gets worse. You walk to your friend’s house, who you remember has a battery operated radio. He was always bothering you about those pesky emergency planning people, the ones you thought were always scaring people about things that would probably never happen, at least not where you live, “won’t ever happen to me,” you would always think. Besides, there are people to take care of everything….

The friend explains to you there was a magnitude 8.5 earthquake down by New Madrid, Missouri. There are a lot of people trapped and missing in that area. St. Louis has massive fires, and Memphis is catastrophic. No one knows how many people are dead. As you walk back you notice traffic is moving slow. Your friend said something about highways, bridges, runways, and rail being damaged. He was glad he has several days of emergency water, food and medicine stored. People are out, going to the stores in a panic to buy up all the supplies they can. You waited too long. Most of the store shelves are empty. The ground shakes again. It is frightening and little do you know these ground shakes will continue for several weeks.

“Will the earthquakes come again? Yes. This is an active seismic zone.”—Carolyn V. Platt, “Nightmare on the Mississippi,” in Timeline. (Timeline is a publication of the Ohio Historical Society). The possibility of a repeat of the Great 1811-1812 earthquakes is foreboding. Scientists believe this could happen anytime, maybe tomorrow morning…maybe tonight.

September is National Preparedness Month. There are nation-wide initiatives to encourage citizens to be prepared for earthquakes and other disasters. For details the reader can go to www.ready.gov, www.redcross.org/preparedness/NPM/ or www.fema.gov/areyouready/ for a lot of good information.

To begin earthquake preparedness for people here in Pulaski County an explanation is due regarding seismic building codes and home preparedness. If our estimated intensity zone was closer to the expected epicenter this story would include a complete article on this issue. Most experts, almost unanimously agree that the single most important process a county or city can take to prepare for future earthquakes is to implement and enforce seismic building codes. This one step would save lives more than anything else that can be done. This becomes quite political and economic factors begin to emerge.

The other component not being completely covered, but I will be glad to in another article are “Preparations around the Home.” This includes things like reinforcement of homes, basement walls reinforced, water heaters firmly attached to the walls, replace heavy light fixtures with lighter ones, outside weak trees should be cut down to prevent them from falling on power lines, on people, or houses; putting strong latches on cabinets, bolting or affixing tall furniture to walls (not usually real popular with avid interior decorators), insuring all large and/or heavy objects are removed from high places, and so forth. Essentially, a good plan is to take a tour of your home and imagine fairy-tale giants lifting and shaking your home. Then ask: What would be damaged by the shaking? In what ways could my family or I be hurt or killed as a result of this shaking.

I will start with some seemingly simple ideas, but ideas that could save your life, and those of people you love. To begin simply make some plans and think primitive. Pretend you and your family are going on a 10-day to 14-day primitive camping trip. First, prepare a kit: When you go to FEMA or other sites the recommendations you will read emphasis preparations for 72-hours or 3-days. However, many emergency managers, including this one, now recommend a plan for 10-days to 14-days.

· Flashlights and extra batteries. One flashlight for every adult. Critical, because earthquakes happen without any warning, therefore you need emergency light to prevent injuries and to immediately look for gas leaks before you start lighting candles. Fires will be an enormous problem from gas lines breaking.
· Water: You need at least one gallon of water per day per person. This will be for drinking and for sanitation. So, to begin our earthquake/survival kit, we need a plan for water. With your stored water, include storing some Regular Clorox Bleach. In case you run out of water, or have none stored, you can use water from tanks and water heater. Tape an instruction card with the water. To make water safe to drink put 8 to 16 drops or ¼ teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water. If you have quart containers use 2 drops per quart. You can use ½ teaspoon for 5 gallons. Also, boiling water can be done if you prefer, or if no bleach. Boiling water is great, but uses up your fuel and you lose some of the water. If boiling, remember 10 minutes. If a disaster occurs, immediately close the value on water heater. This will give you many gallons of water to use. Do it quickly before contaminated. You can freeze several gallons of water in your freezer and store several gallons in your kit.
· Food is next: Put non-perishable foods in your kit. Canned and dried foods. Throw in something good, some candy, the kids (and you) will appreciate a treat if power out and you are forced to survive several days. Besides, these are a good energy source.
· While on the subject of comfort stuff, throw some games and books in the earthquake box. The kids might get very bored (no TV, no electronic games). They might actually read some good old classic novels, such as Moby Dick, Treasure Island, or explore the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. For the ladies try: Gone With the Wind, or Jane Eyre, wonderful classic novels. Guys, Moby Dick is great, so is Ivanhoe, or Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
· Food preparation items: include a manual can opener and a grill or camp stove. Don’t forget charcoal and lighter fluid, and matches (kept in safe—waterproof container).
· Shelter: in case the home is damaged, a tent, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothing with changes, and good sturdy footwear.
· Tools: an ax, handsaw, crescent wrench or shut-off wrench to turn off household water and gas; hammer & nails, pry bar, and 100 feet of rope.
· Battery powered radio and/or TV. NOAA Weather radio. Extra batteries.
· Toiletries: Toilet tissue, trash bags, toothpaste, soap, shampoo.
· Candles and matches.
· First Aid Kit: A first aid book, soap, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, aspirin and other over-the counter medications your family uses; small bandages, sanitary napkins, scissors, knife, and any special medications regularly used by your family, and extra eyeglasses.
· Maps of the area.
· Fire extinguisher
· Whistle: In case you get trapped, to help someone locate you.

Part IV: Making a Family Plan

Last week the earthquake emergency kit was explained. In planning for an earthquake or other emergencies consider a strong box, made of wood, to place in a safe location where every family member knows the location. When placing the emergency supplies listed last week, be sure and rotate certain items out every few months and replace with fresh supplies, i.e.; food, batteries, and lighter fluid. You may want to air-out the clothes and blankets. Check the fire extinguisher as well. Be sure medications are ok and not expired. This would be an excellent time to review the family emergency plan together. Check the emergency kit and review your emergency plan or even have a practice scenario.

Now that we have planned for the primitive living conditions in part III, and have water, food, and shelter plans; one of the first things you may want to make a plan for is communications with family members. When a disaster happens people want to be with and know if their loved ones are ok. A good way to do this is have a family member or friend’s telephone in another area or state. Be sure all your family has this number. During a disaster you can probably call out of state easier than across town. Teach each family member to call that number for information to know where to meet and so forth. Be sure every family member knows the number, has some coins or a prepaid phone card.

Make a basic plan for all emergencies, and then include contingency plans. Plan for different emergencies and at different locations. Examples: If you are in a vehicle, outside, or in the home. Should you stay in place or evacuate? Remember, earthquakes, unlike most emergencies might not have any warning.

In the home plan safe spots, and If inside, stay inside. Do not run outside! Most deaths from earthquakes happen early during the event and are a result of falling debris. Stay away from outside doors, windows and walls. It is best to go to the interior and take cover under strong tables or a desk. After the initial quake there may be aftershocks, so prepare for them. Put on sturdy shoes before moving after the shaking stops. There may be a lot of broken glass around. Do not strike a match until you can check for broken gas lines (this is why flashlights are so important, see earthquake kit, part III).

Part of the planning process is to discuss the safest places in each room to be in during the earthquake. This is important, because there may not be time to run from room to room to find a place of safety. This should be discussed by the parents and children. It is hard to discuss these issues with children, as there are enough fears in our modern society for children to worry about already. The idea is to present a plan of action with the children and try to be as careful and sensitive as possible. Hopefully by placing emphasis on the plan of action, this will help to alleviate some of the fear.

If caught out in a vehicle during an earthquake pull to the side of the road and stop. Stay in the car. Do not stop on a bridge or under an overpass. If you are outside, stay there, but move away from buildings and utility lines. Sit in an open area with your head down and protected by your arms.

Many people fear the panic and breakdown of society following a disaster. However, studies actually show different. Following disasters most people appear stunned for a short period of time. Later, however, they seem to react calmly and rationally. Studies confirm that people everywhere seem to respond well to disasters and actually take on a more rural type of friendliness instead of the “big city” habit of ignoring people. People seem to return to more ancient forms of communication and banding together in small groups.

Small, informal groups of strangers often band together and go around rescuing those who need help. In fact, in large disasters, victims are often rescued by other victims. Outside emergency groups often arrive too late to help the majority of the people. Remember, there might be road and bridge failure delaying emergency and rescue response.

Surprisingly, looting is not as bad as often shown on TV. If one noticed during Katrina, we were shown the same looters over and over. There is no evidence that much looting will occur. People who study post-disaster social behavior find very little, if any, looting following major earthquakes. This differs from riots and other civil disturbances.

One last item to mention is the financial preparation. People might want to discuss earthquake insurance with their insurance company. Weigh the risk by proximity to the estimated intensities expected in the region where you live.

In conclusion, if the reader begins to feel overwhelmed by all of this information, just consider the following:

· Purchase earthquake insurance
· Make a plan and know what to do when an earthquake occurs
· Secure the water heater.
· Build and fill an “earthquake box” with necessities.
· Know where the electric, gas, and water turn-off switches/valves are.
· Bolt tall furniture and remove heavy objects from high places.

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