The first earthquake threw the 150 or so residents of Little Prairie out of their beds. The ground roared, moaned, and rumbled. Strange lights flashed from the earth. A dense vapor blacked out the stars.
Thus, at 2:30 a.m. December 16, 1811, began the New Madrid earthquakes, some of the most powerful and far reaching quakes ever experienced in North America. Three major earthquakes, several aftershocks almost as powerful, and at least 1,800 notable tremors terrified the region and disturbed sleep as far away as Quebec over the next three months.
The little Mississippi River frontier village lay near the epicenter (the northeast corner of present-day Arkansas) and suffered some of the most severe damage, forcing the entire town to flee for their lives.
The refugees reported that the shock at 8 a.m. was even worse. The ground quivered and writhed. Cracks appeared in the earth, and steamy vapor, blood-temperature water, and mud blew from them. The earth opened and shut. Water spouted higher than the trees.
Later that morning, a chasm 20 feet wide opened in the town. Quicksand and water gurgled up, and a warm mist carried the smell of brimstone.
The tough citizens of Little Prairie began to pack a few light possessions.
At 11 a.m. a huge upheaval beneath the town lifted and heaved it. A dark liquid oozed from the ground, and water spouted 10 feet high. The town began to sink. Trees, houses, and even the mill went down.
Everyone ran in the warm waist-deep water, children on adults’ shoulders. They waded through the water for eight miles before they reached high ground. Swimming beside them were wolves, possums, snakes, and other animals.
Days later, their hope and food supplies exhausted, they walked north to New Madrid.
If I ever write a sequel to Thunder Beneath My Feet, I’ll find out where they went from there.