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Name:  Arlene Langley
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1993

I have read that a strong earthquake occurred in Illinois which changed the course of the Mississippi River many years ago. I was wondering what were the most recent earthquakes in Illinois and where they occurred. Were they strong enough to do damage like the one which changed the Mississippi River?

The "New Madrid" earthquakes of 1811-1812, named for the town of New Madrid, in southeast Missouri, are what you read about. This series of three strong (estimated at over 8 on the Richter scale) quake events with numerous after-shocks was one of the most violent to occur in U.S. history. The shocks were felt from Canada to New Orleans, and as far east as Boston, so were certainly strongly felt in Illinois. (You may recall that there was a prediction that a massive earthquake would occur in December 1990 centered in the New Madrid area following a moderate quake there in September of that year. It received a huge amount of media coverage and, luckily, failed to come true.) For recent quakes, the best I could come with is a Department of Commerce publication entitled "Earthquake History of the United States," which has data up through 1980. It lists, for the decade 1971-1980: Sept. 15, 1972 (3.7); April 3, 1974 (4.7); June 5 (4.0), 1974; and Dec. 5, 1978 (3.5) as the dates of earthquakes having epicenter in Illinois. (The number in parenthesis after each date is the Richter scale of the quake). Of these, all but the first were centered in southern Illinois (the most common locale for occurrence because of its nearness to the New Madrid fault); the '72 quake caused minor damage in Amboy, Holcomb, and Rock Falls in northern Illinois. None of these quakes came anywhere close to the 1811-12 quakes. The Richter scale is logarithmic; the energy released in the 1811-12 quakes was at least hundreds of thousands of times more than the severest of the "modern" quakes listed above.

Ronald Winther

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