Our logo from the gallery days

The 7.9 Scenario

FAQs

Writing in the RV

Listen to the author
tell part
of the story.

Back to top

Back to home

Whenever I talk with people about the basis for The 7.9 Scenario, they often become very interested and buy my book.

I have collected below many of the usual questions I am prepared to answer. I offer them to the readers of this webpage. Of course, someone may ask something that is not on this list, and I might not have an answer. I will add to this list as I gain experience.

Books by Sam Penny

101. What works have you written or have in process?
102. What is your book Memphis 7.9 about?
103. What is the basis for The 7.9 Scenario series?
104. What will you next book, Broken River, be about?
105. Will there be a movie or TV series made of your book?
106. Has the book won any awards?
107. How big is the book Memphis 7.9?
108. How does someone purchase your book?

The 7.9 Scenario

201. What is The 7.9 Scenario?
202. What does it take to make a magnitude 7.9 earthquake and how big is it?
203. What happens to the rivers in The 7.9 Scenario?
204. What happens to people living in the most stricken area?
205. How can people survive after a big earthquake?
206. What will happen to Memphis in the longer term?
207. What happens to the United States in The 7.9 Scenario?
208. Where did you find the data used in your scenario?
209. Why did you choose magnitude 7.9?
210. Why do you say such an earthquake would destroy a significant portion of our country's Gross Domestic Product?
211. Why is this the worst disaster that could strike the United States?
212. My sister lives a thousand miles away; why should this concern her?
213. What will a big earthquake do to the Mississippi River?
214. What about chemical plants along the rivers?
215. What about electric power?
216. What about the transportation system?
217. Will the communications system still work?
218. What about water and sewer?
219. What about gas and fuel pipelines crossing the rivers?
220. Will there be cracks in the ground?
221. What happens to the farm lands in an earthquake?
222. What are sand boils?
223. What is liquefaction?
224. What about aftershocks?

How To Prepare For An Earthquake

301. What is our government doing about this threat?
302. Is there more that government agencies should do to prepare?
303. What should I do to prepare?

Personal Facts

401. What is your background and expertise?
402. How did you become interested in earthquakes and the New Madrid Fault in particular?
403. What makes you an expert on earthquakes around Memphis?
404. Have you ever been to Memphis?
405. Why did you write about the New Madrid Fault?
406. Where can I find your website?

Earthquake Facts

501. What causes an earthquake?
502. What is the New Madrid Seismic Zone?
503. Where did the New Madrid Seismic Zone come from?
504. When was the last big earthquake on the New Madrid Fault?
505. How does the New Madrid Fault compare to the San Andraes Fault in California?
506. What are the chances for a 7.9 magnitude earthquake really happening?
507. What would I feel where I live from a 7.9 magnitude earthquake?
508. What about smaller earthquakes on the New Madrid?
509. Why do you say only man-made things destroyed in an earthquake?
510. What are the most dangerous places to be in an earthquake?
511. Have you ever encountered research that the new madrid fault is expanding?
512. How would a New Madrid earthquake compare to what happened in India in 2001?

Earthquake Data and Calculations

601. How can I share in your data and get results specific for my city?
602. What are the USGS Hazard Maps?
603. What do the Hazard Maps tell us?
604. How do I learn more about the New Madrid Fault?


Books by Sam Penny

101. What works have you written or have in process?

During my working career I wrote a number of technical and marketing papers for conferences and magazines. Upon retirement I continued writing, doing a column for several years in RV Companion Magazine on Internet Links for RVers.

My retirement plans included writing a disaster/thriller novel about what happens when a giant earthquake strikes the New Madrid Fault. That germ of an idea developed into The 7.9 Scenario, requiring a series of novels to tell the full story.

The first book of the series, Memphis 7.9, was published in 2003 and became available over the Internet in September. Signed copies are available from my website and at selected brick and mortar bookstores.

Broken River was published in 2004. The Phoenix of Memphis is scheduled in 2006.

I am also writing a non-fiction book, The 7.9 Scenario, Analysis & Writing, which is being serialized on this website.

I am working with others on a screenplay and publishing excerpts and out-takes from The 7.9 Scenario as short stories and novellas as the opportunities arise.

102. What is your book Memphis 7.9 about?

Memphis 7.9, Book 1 of The 7.9 Scenario, details what happens to the Mississippi River valley when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake strikes the New Madrid Fault 45 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee.

In the story Chris Nelson's computer model predicts a strong temblor, but his University advisor opposes making public predictions. JQ McCrombie disbelieves the possibility of a major earthquake, and using bribes and low quality construction, makes the business of strengthening highway bridges for earthquake safety highly profitable. Others in and around Memphis live with varying degrees of disregard, complacency, and ignorance of the dangers of the fault just across the river. Only a few worry about preparations for a disaster.

On a pleasant Saturday morning in May, beginning at 9:34:09, the temblor begins. In twenty-three and a half seconds the earth fractures for a distance 70 miles along the fault from Lepanto, Arkansas to Ridgely, Tennessee, passing beneath the Mississippi River near Caruthersville, Missouri.

Over the next thirteen minutes earthwaves from the magnitude 7.9 temblor destroy Memphis and the upper Mississippi River Delta then spread out to wreck havoc across the eastern United States. Ninety-one million people in twenty-two states feel the earth shake, tens of thousands are killed, hundreds of thousands injured, millions left homeless.

The story of what happens is told through the eyes of those who feel the earth shake. Some perish, some survive, all face an entirely new future. Memphis is a lost city, cut off from the outside world. Six hours after the big shake the survivors begin to realize the full impact of the catastrophe. Now what?

103. What is the basis for The 7.9 Scenario series?

I became interested in earthquakes and faults when I moved to California in 1960 and found I worked 300 yards away from the Hayward Fault at the University of California in Berkeley.

I began serious research into the damage inflicted by earthquakes after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1987, using the Internet as my primary resource. That research brought home to me that even though California is famous for its earthquakes, the most dangerous fault in the United States is the New Madrid Fault in the center of the country.

Using FEMA and USGS reports I began an analysis of the overall effects of a giant earthquake in that region and developed several detailed computer models for predicted shaking and related damage and casualties for all twenty-two states that would be affected.

When I did a scenario using the current conditions combined with the potential hazards I found that the results would be catastrophic, not only for the region around the fault but across the entire United States as well.

My wife and I visited the Memphis area several times where I studied the construction and talked with the locals. I have followed the attempts by some authorities in that region to raise the construction standards and awareness of the population to the dangers just across the river from them. They have had marginal success.

104. What about your next book, Broken River?

My first attempt to write my novel resulted in an opus of 160,000 words, far too large for the reading public. A friend suggested dividing it into two books, and the second is called Broken River. That process also solved the problem of how to end the book; many years will pass before The 7.9 Scenario plays out the full impact of a great earthquake.

Broken River tells the story of an excursion boat and a towboat with twelve barges caught on the Mississippi River near Caruthersville in the shaking.

The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and their tributaries have become man-made structures with levees, dams, locks, and bridges. The waterways are even more vulnerable to destruction from the shaking of an earthquake than many of the buildings that line the river.

The boats must pass under a fallen Interstate highway bridge to work their way down the river to what they hope is the safety of dry ground at Memphis. Waters from the broken locks at Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River add to the problems faced by the two captains as they try to remain safe on the turbulent waters. Along they way they deal with broken levees, fallen bluffs, and the chaos of river pirates who have become savages in the anarchy that prevails.

Finally reaching Memphis they find they must now cope with helping the city and staying safe in the chaos that reigns.

105. Will there be a movie or TV series made of your book?

Several people have expressed interest in seeing the book made into a movie. I am working with others on a screenplay at this time.

106. Have the books won any awards?

In March, 2004, Memphis 7.9 received Honorable Mention in the 2004 Darrell Award competition at MidSouthCon 22 in Memphis, Tennessee. I was present to receive the award and made many friends at the Con.

Memphis 7.9 has been entered into several other competitions, including two relating to self-published works. It did not win any of those awards.

Broken River is entered for the 2005 Darrell Awards at MidSouthCon23.

107. How big is the book Memphis 7.9?

Memphis 7.9 is a trade paperback measuring 6 by 9 inches. The body contains 248 pages. The story is 239 pages. It was originally published by Booksurge LLC with an ISBN of 1-58898-920-8. The latest edition is published by TwoPenny Pulications with an ISBN of 0-9755671-0-1.

108. How does someone purchase your books?

Memphis 7.9 and Broken River are available over the Internet and at selected bookstores.

You may purchase signed copies on this website.

You may also purchase the books on-line at www.booksurge.com, www.amazon.com, and www.alibris.com at various price points. You may be charged for shipping from those sites.

Bookstores and libraries receive discounts if they order copies from www.booksurgedirect.com.

I make the best royalties from purchases made from my website and next from booksurge.

 

The 7.9 Scenario


201. What is The 7.9 Scenario?

The dictionary defines scenario as an imagined account of possible events resulting from some happening.

In The 7.9 Scenario the happening is when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake strikes on the southern extension of New Madrid Fault, fracturing the earth's crust for 70 miles from Lepanto, Arkansas to Ridgely, Tennessee.

Events considered in the scenario are the actual earthquake and immediate destruction that results, the attempts to respond to those most in need, the impact on the entire United States demographics and economy, and the tortuous task of rebuilding the shattered areas.

202. What does it take to make a magnitude 7.9 earthquake and how big is it?

In my book Memphis 7.9 I use fiction to provide background information on the New Madrid Fault. The story ultimately leads into the actual temblor, describing in detail the mechanics of how an earthquake happens.

The hypothesized magnitude 7.9 earthquake results from the creation of a 70-mile long fracture along the New Madrid Fault, 45 miles from Memphis. Seismic waves spread across the eastern half of the United States even as TV goes real-time and tells of their advance.

The result of the shaking is the massive destruction of man-made structures up and down the Mississippi River Valley and into the Ohio River Valley. Buildings, levees, barge locks, bridges collapse or sink into the mud. Grain elevators burst and refineries catch fire.

Near the trace of the fracture the damage is almost absolute and the immediate casualties extremely high. Further away the shaking is less but still dangerous. Fatalities can be expected in Chicago, Cincinnati, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Houston. The forces are enough to once again ring church bells in Boston, over 1,000 miles away.

203. What happens to the rivers in The 7.9 Scenario?

In my second book, Broken River, I tell of the impact of the shaking on the rivers and reservoirs of the Central United States.

Bridges, dams, locks, and now even the rivers are man-made structures. Bridges will fall, dams will be breached, locks will be broken. Levees alongside the rivers simply liquefy back to the mud and sand from which they were made, leaving the waters of the rivers uncontrolled.

The Mississippi River changes its course at Bessie. Massive flooding can be expected in Missouri and Arkansas and in Mississippi below Memphis.

The levees in Louisiana are quite vulnerable to the intensity of shaking a 7.9 magnitude temblor will produce and breaches can be expected at many places. New Orleans levees may break to flood the city and the Mississippi River could change its course north of New Orleans where the Achafalaya meets the Mississippi.

The river transportation system will be destroyed. Those caught on the river must struggle to find safety on dry but unstable land.

204. What happens to people living in the most stricken area?

Those who are caught in the most shaken areas must respond to a long list of immediate problems. In areas around Memphis almost all communications and transportation has been destroyed.

There is no water pressure and houses and businesses burn to the ground. Sanitation facilities are gone. Hospitals no longer operate once emergency generator fuel is exhausted. Food is in short supply and the authorities struggle to maintain control.

Aftershocks and lack of power plague the rescue efforts. In my story I project a 7.4 magnitude aftershock will rip the middle part of the seismic zone, spreading even more destruction.

Soon people realize that little outside help is coming to Memphis, Those who might have come from the east or the west are totally involved in their own problems with the earthquake and have no resources to send.

205. How can people survive after a big earthquake?

The story of how the people of Memphis struggle to survive will be told in my third book, The Phoenix of Memphis, to be published in 2006.

The tragedies in India, Bosnia, Turkey, and Iraq, and most recently from the tsunami in southeast Asia, that we have witnessed on television in the last few years give us some indication of what can be expected. This time people of the East and West Coasts of the United States must work to save the heart of our country. We will give thanks for help from abroad.

Initially people around Memphis must have to learn to survive with what little they have. There will be little their local authorities can provide. The Armed Forces can provide some help, but the level of help needed exceeds even their capacity to respond. In addition, all rescue efforts are hampered by the extreme damage to the roads and bridges surrounding the Memphis area.

A new governing order must be worked out to keep control of the city. Martial Law is probably inevitable. Evil, darkness, and corruption will rise up and attempt to take advantage the miseries of the city's inhabitants. It will require strong-willed, dedicated people to organize and keep the region in order.

206. What will happen to Memphis in the longer term?

Estimates are that it will be 35 years before the Mississippi River Valley can recover from a great earthquake on the New Madrid. A whole new order must be built from scratch.

One of the first trends to develop will be a massive migration from the area. My third book, The Phoenix of Memphis, to be published in 2006, tells the story of the beginnings of that migration when those unable to survive the dog-eat-dog environment - the orphans, the old, the weak - seek to find a way out of the destruction and to safety.

Over a third of the population will leave the area, and among the first to go will be many of those needed the most, the people capable of repairing the city and the region. Ultimately the river and the city will recover, but it will take many years requiring a whole new generation of pioneers to return to the area and aid in the recovery.

207. What happens to the United States in The 7.9 Scenario?

Though The 7.9 Scenario focuses on the region around Memphis, the impact of such a happening on the entire United States is horrendous.

One-tenth of all transported goods in the United States flow through or near Memphis by truck, rail, air, river barge, or pipelines. That entire traffic flow will be ended overnight.

The Mississippi River will be uncrossable by rail or truck from St. Louis to Vicksburg. East/west transportation costs will double or triple.

As much as half of the oil, gas, and coal transported by pipelines from the west to the east will be stopped for months. Fuel shortages on the East Coast will continue for years.

A significant portion of the chemical plants that line the Mississippi River and its tributaries will cease operation because of damage or lack of raw materials like grain or fuel. The lack of their products will produce shortages that will slow or stop other manufacturers throughout the country. Some materials like high fructose corn syrup may become a thing of the past.

Most people and businesses have no earthquake insurance, but many will still have collectable fire insurance. The toll will be sufficient that the insurance industry will be destroyed. All primary insurers and the re-insurers, both in the United States and around the globe will be bankrupted by their inability to pay those claims they cannot get out of.

The United States will lose as much as 10% of its Gross Domestic Product capability overnight. The stock market will crash. The world markets will plummet in sympathy. A massive worldwide depression may occur, only to be followed by stupendous inflation. Unemployment will climb to record heights.

A catastrophe this large may very well relegate the United States to the status of a third world country.

208. Where did you find the data used in your scenario?

The book entitled Earthquakes by Bruce A. Bolt of the University of California, Berkeley, 1993, provided my primary understanding of the earthquake process.

My primary source for projected shaking intensities was Damages & Losses From Future New Madrid Earthquakes by Dr. David Stewart of the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. Its last printing was in 1996

I initially used the Rand-McNally Atlas for the 1990 county census data. I recently updated my estimates using the 2000 census from the Internet. I also found many useful bits form different books and pamphlets from the California Seismic Safety Commission and the USGS.

William Atkinson's 1989 book The Next New Madrid Earthquake, A Survival Guide for the Midwest provided a very good reference for possible results from a major earthquake on the New Madrid.

I also searched the Internet for interesting and informative websites about earthquakes, both history and educational.

209. Why did you choose magnitude 7.9?

7.9 is large enough to cause catastrophic damage to our country and low enough to be significantly probable. Even I might live long enough to see this scenario happen, and there are things our country can do to prepare.

There have been several books written about stupendously large earthquakes on the New Madrid, so large as to seem totally improbable and almost impossible to prepare for.

The major earthquakes of the 1811 and 1812 series were all estimated to be in the 8.0 to 8.6 range. Some people feel that they may have been an anomaly and the danger of something that large is hundreds of years in the future.

I initially chose a magnitude of 7.7 to make the event even more probable but decided to use 7.9 because it showed some of the effects more strikingly and was still in the realm of reason.

Earthquakes of lesser strength are even more probable. Any earthquake above 7.0 will be a major problem for the area around Memphis.

210. Why do you say such an earthquake would destroy a significant portion of our country's Gross Domestic Product?

If you look at the economic census data, several things become immediately clear. Ten percent of the TOTAL shipping tonnage of our country moves past or through Memphis, by barges, truck, pipeline, air or rail. The main traffic hub for Federal Express is in Memphis. All that shipping capability will be lost.

Memphis is not the only place where damage will impact transportation. A significant portion of shipping from St. Louis to New Orleans to Cincinnatti to Little Rock will no longer be possible.

Much of the coal, oil, and gas shipped from fields in Texas, Oklahoma, and other states flows by pipelines to the eastern United States. Many of those pipelines will be destroyed and it may take years to rebuild them. In the meantime, the east and south coast will experience a major power shortage and lack of raw materials, forcing many plant closures throughout the region.

The insurance industry will be destroyed, entirely. The 9-11 tragedy killed less than 3,000 people and took out between 2 and 3 percent of the USA GDP. An earthquake of this magnitude could kill 80,000 people and take out as much as 10% of the USA GDP.

211. Why is this the worst disaster that could strike the United States?

When you study the different kinds of disasters that can strike our land, only a major war or big earthquake can cause such widespread destruction.

Tornadoes destroy a few square miles at a time and hurricanes may devastate hundreds of square miles. But both of them usually provide enough warning time for people to prepare.

The worst terrorist attack killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed buildings in a few square blocks of New York City.

Earthquakes happen suddenly, without warning, and the damaged area is huge, especially in the central United States. The Northridge earthquake in California measured a magnitude 6.8 and shattered an area of 600 square miles. In 1895 an earthquake of the same size struck near Charleston, Missouri and devastated 6,000 square miles. Had the area been populated as it is now the destruction would have been immense. And a 6.8 event is 30 times less powerful than a 7.9 event.

The damage zone where the shaking intensity will be VI or above from a 7.9 magnitude earthquake will be about 300,000 square miles in size in the central United States. There will be 32,000,000 people at risk in that zone.

Estimates from The 7.9 Scenario show that depending on the day of the week, time of day, and degree of flooding that results, fatalities could number over one hundred thousand, injuries over half a million, and homeless 6.5 to 10 million.

212. People say, my sister lives a thousand miles away; why should this concern her?

While people who live at points distant from the New Madrid Fault may not feel the shaking, they will be involved in the rescue effort and they will feel the economic impact.

This is a national problem and actions are required at the national level.

Besides, there are faults everywhere, some yet to be discovered. What has been described for the New Madrid Seismic Zone can occur elsewhere, from New York to Georgia to Texas to Montana to California. There are lessons on survival to be learned by everyone.

213. What will a big earthquake do to the Mississippi River?

The Mississippi and Ohio River and their tributaries have become man-made structures. They are confined by levees and controlled by dams, weirs and locks. Earthquakes do the most damage to man-made structures. Therefore, the rivers are in grave danger.

The levees are made of mud and sand. When the ground shakes beneath them, they tend to crumble, and if they are wet from holding back flood waters, they simply turn to quicksand and flow away.

The dams are mostly earth-filled structures, really just gigantic levees. They can suffer the same fate as their smaller brethren.

The locks through which the barge traffic flows are vulnerable because the structures on either side of a lock can move back and forth, especially if an earthen dam backs it up. If the ground motion is from the side, the lock gates can be crushed until they break or spring apart, releasing the water they hold back to flood the areas downstream.

At the massive New Madrid loop of the Mississippi River the northbound channel at Bessie is seperated from the southbound channel by an isthmus only half a mile wide. There is a drop of ten feet in river elevation. The water has flowed across that isthmus in the past. If it were to break through at that point it would create a massive rapids through which no river traffic could go until a new dam and locks were built.

These possibilities are covered in my second book, Broken River.

214. What about chemical plants along the rivers?

Chemical plants built along the rivers rest on pilings driven into the mud. Though the buildings may be relatively stable, the ground on which they rest is not.

Most chemical plants move large volumes of fluids around in pipes, and if those pipes are stretched or compressed to far, they rupture, spilling their contents to the ground. Fracture distillation columns are unstable if shaken too much. In addition, the piping may be torn from their sides. Storage tanks may simply burst as the liquids inside slosh from side to side in the shaking.

Huge fires can be expected at any chemical plant that processes combustible materials. The smoke from these fires is hazardous and may be extremely toxic. There will simply be no way to stop them. They will have to burn themselves out.

215. What about electric power?

Power production plants will probably remain standing under severe shaking, especially the nuclear plants. In severe shaking some of the power generation equipment may be thrown out of alignment. In any case, they are all designed to shut down when there is shaking for inspection.

You can expect that grave damage will be done to the power distribution lines and to the fuel supplies. Damage to power lines may extend several hundred miles out from the trace of the fracture.

In The 7.9 Scenario Memphis is without power for several months. Emergency generators in the city will help, but only briefly. They will soon run out of fuel. Then there will be no power.

216. What about the transportation system?

Major bridges are most vulnerable to extreme shaking. A portion of the Bay Bridge and the entire elevated Cypress Structure collapsed from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1987, a 7.1 magnitude event over 50 miles away.

It is almost certain that the entire Interstate Highway system anywhere near the fracture will be severely crippled. Local streets that cross or go under a freeway may very well be blocked as well because of fallen overpasses.

In The 7.9 Scenario I expect that all the bridges crossing the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Vicksburg will be destroyed or severely damaged. They will not be repaired for many months. Some will never be replaced. This situation creates a six hundred-mile long wall between the western and eastern parts of our country that blocks all train and truck traffic.

Local roads and streets will initially be impassable because of fallen trees and power lines, but they should be cleared within a few days. Bridges at creeks and small rivers may remain a problem for months afterwards.

However, with fuel in very short supply and no power to pump it out of the buried fuel tanks, there should be little vehicle traffic on the roads around Memphis after the first few weeks. It might be a good idea to invest in a sturdy bicycle.

217. Will the communications system still work?

The initial shaking will wipe out all but mobile communications. Telephone land-lines will be broken, taking with them the cellphone system. Microwave towers will be knocked out of alignment and unable to send or receive. With the lose of power the television and radio stations will rapidly go off the air.

The police and fire department have mobile radio in their vehicles that will continue to operate for a time. However, much of that is short range and assumes the presence of a repeater station.

The Ham Radio operators have a system to communicate over UHF and VHF over long distances in an emergency, and once they can come up they will provide some degree of communications. However, with the absence of electrical power and fuel for generators, their effectiveness will degenerate.

Those people in the Memphis area with satellite television and Internet links will be able to communicate with the outside world, at least if they have power. Those fortunate enough to have solar panels will become de facto communications centers for the area.

218. What about water and sewer?

Places where the intensity of the shaking exceeds VII will experience substantial breaks in the underground piping carrying water and sewage anywhere there is a slope. In Memphis the entire infrastructure can be expected to be broken in so many places it will take months to get it back together.

Water treatment plants will be without power and possibly destroyed. Sewage treatment plants will be non-operational, but that will not be a problem until they can once again receive the affluent.

The potable water supply will quickly become a problem. People must conserve what they have, either in bottles, hot water tanks, toilet bowls, or swimming pools. Eventually that water will be gone and they will have to rely on water from the creeks and rivers. Chlorinating the water will be vital to prevent the spread of cholera and dysentary.

The city's sewage disposal system will be gone. Locals will have to devise ways of disposing of their wastes, hopefully without contaminating the water supply in the process. Unfortunately, there are a million people in Shelby County, and there is not that much space to dispose of wastes.

219. What about gas and fuel pipelines crossing the rivers?

Much of the gas and coal from the west is transported to the east in pipelines. Any pipeline that crosses the river between St. Louis and Vicksburg will probably be destroyed, or at least made unusable for a period of time.

This lack of fuel will have significant impact all along the east coast as fuel shortages quickly develop. Imports from the near east will become vital.

220. Will there be cracks in the ground?

Along the trace of the fracture there may be areas where the cracks appear in the surface of the ground, but for the most part there will be more sand boils than anything else. Gravity does not pull the land to the side to open or close a crack.

Along the banks of the rivers and creeks there will be many places where the banks break off to slide into the water, creating cracks where the land drops away.

The land along the New Madrid Fault is mostly flat except for a few significant places. The Chickasaw Bluffs at Fort Pillow and Memphis rise above the river to a height of 200 feet or more. To the east of the Mississippi there are rolling, wooded hills. Major landslides can develop along any of these steep slopes. Around the landslides it will appear that there are cracks.

221. What happens to the farm lands in an earthquake?

Most of the farmland will be left unchanged except where it is flooded by the uncontrolled waters of the rivers.

In some places there will be sand boils that bring water and sand up from the water table.

222. What are sand boils?

When the earth is shaken back and forth, soils that are saturated with water, like below the water table, may have the sand and mud particles go into suspension. Then as the pressures of the earthwaves push on this slurry, the mixture is forced to the surface and spews out like a geyser, carrying a load of sand and buried flood debris from the bowels of the earth. Generally it stinks of rotten eggs.

A large sand boil will make large areas of farmland untillable. Remains of sand boils from the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes are still visible in the fields above Caruthersville.

223. What is liquefaction?

When the water table is very near to the surface, the shaken soil becomes a mixture of water and suspended sand, more commonly known as quicksand. You get the same effect if you jump up and down on a sand bar next to a creek.

If this happens over a large area, structures at the surface simply sink into the quagmire. If the sinking is uneven, the buildings will be broken in two.

224. What about aftershocks?

Aftershocks occur when more movement is required along the fracture to relieve more stress in the fault. Another fracture occurs, usually smaller, creating another earthquake. It must be in the rock originally fractured to be considered an aftershock. Otherwise, it is considered a separate earthquake in its own right.

Aftershocks may be very small or very large. Two aftershocks in 1811 are estimated to have measured over 8.0 in magnitude.

Aftershocks begin immediately after the initial fracture and may continue for days. Following 1812 the aftershocks continued with such intensity and at such a rate that the region was not really habitable for another five years.

 

How To Prepare For An Earthquake


301. What is our government doing about this threat?

There are several government agencies directly concerned with the threat of earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault.

USGS supports a team of Universities as they monitor the fault. CERI is the primary organization at the Univeristy of Memphis that studies the seismology of the region. The Middle America Earthquake Center (MAE) at the University of Illinois is working on problems relating to the affects off the shaking.

FEMA works with local Emergency Management Agencies to prepare disaster plans. CUSEC (Central United States Earthquake Consortium) is a cooperative effort of the Emergency Management Agencies of the surrounding states.

The local police and fire departments have contingency plans in place to handle such emergencies.

The individual communities have people devoted to building local awareness of the problem.

302. Is there more that government agencies should do to prepare?

One of my concerns is what I perceive to be a lack of planning for a truly gigantic catastrophe such as described in The 7.9 Scenario. One of the arguments for not bothering is that it is too rare, and besides with something that big there is nothing they can do.

There is also a reluctance to talk about a truly major event. The preparation is focused on events in the 6.0 to 7.0 magnitude range. There is good logic in that, for such events are more probable. But there should still be a dialogue about what to do if a truly large earthquake happens.

Most importantly, there should be a national recognition of the potential danger to the entire United States. There are things that can be done to lessen the loss to the country's GDP.

303. What should I do to prepare?

Take a look at my new website www.the79survivor.com. Here I will be putting together more information about what individuals can do.

But in the meantime, let me tell you of some of the preparations I made while living in California earthquake country, and what I am doing now.

Living atop the Calavaras Fault I prepared a survival kit in a plastic tub and checked it regularly. It had standard things like first aid supplies, blankets, and flashlights. I also kept a supply of fresh water and fuel for my Coleman stove and lantern.

In my home I anchored the bookshelves and water heaters to the wall. Our family had a plan for getting in touch in the event of a major event of any kind.

When my wife and I retired we adopted a nomadic life-style living full-time in an RV so we can get out of an area of massive destruction. I have solar panels and keep my fresh water and fuel tanks full. I carry a wind-up radio just in case. We practice living frugally.

I do keep a survival kit on hand, and I keep a long-term supply of essential things like water, fuel, and medicines on hand. We have ham radio and satellite TV.

I work to keep abreast of what is happening around me, be it fires, weather, traffic, seismology, or wild animals. I look for potential problem areas and take action if there is something I can do. The main thing is to realize that you are your own first line of defense in the event of an emergency. Think about it and be prepared.

 

Personal Facts


401. What is your background and expertise?

My professional experience started in physics and engineering, focused on computing systems and applications then migrated over the next forty years to corporate executive. Along the way, for several years I worked with geologists in the oil industry on projects involving rock mechanics, directional drilling, and plate tectonics.

I graduated in 1958 in Engineering Physics from the University of Oklahoma. In 1960 I received a Masters Degree in Physics from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I retired from my position as the VP of Engineering for SBE, Inc. in 1998.

402. How did you become interested in earthquakes and the New Madrid Fault in particular?

Living in California, I developed a healthy respect for seismology and began to study the cause and effects of earthquakes, twice experiencing the adrenaline rush from magnitude 7+ temblors. I decided to use my background to bring to light the possibilities by writing a novel about the New Madrid scenario.

403. What makes you an expert on earthquakes around Memphis?

I do not call myself an expert. I have studied much of the available literature, printed and on the Internet, both from other writers and from government agencies, on this subject. I feel that I am well-informed about the subject. My experience and background have allowed me to better understand some of the technical details and I have attempted to restate some of these in clear language so the lay-person can understand.

404. Have you ever been to Memphis?

I have visited the city several time, always as a tourist. I recommend it as a place to go, especially in May or October when the weather is most reasonable.

While in Memphis I did research on a number of fronts, including talking to their Emergency Management Agency people. My wife and I even met the Mayor of the City, though we did not realize at the time just who it was.

405. Why did you write about the New Madrid Fault?

After observing Memphis and St. Louis while on vacation in 1996, I began to research the effects of a "great" earthquake on the New Madrid Fault along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Applying the 1990 county census numbers from a Wal-Mart Rand McNally Atlas to a FEMA report detailing the expected shaking intensity on a county-by-county basis for various size temblors, I calculated the cumulative effects across the eastern United States. I also computed the wave energy profile for every major metropolitan area throughout the region.

The resulting scenario left me awe-struck: a magnitude 7.9 earthquake would produce a catastrophic event that could kill tens of thousands, injure hundreds of thousands, leave millions without homes, and destroy a significant portion of the USA Gross Domestic Product. In 1996 the estimated probability was one in five that such an event would occur in the next fifty years, 20% that it would happen sometime between next week to 2046.

I wanted to write fiction in retirement and decided that warning the world of this danger would be an appropriate undertaking.

406. What websites do you have?

At this website, www.the79scenario.com, you can find information about The 7.9 Scenario and my book publishing experiences.

I also maintain a website devoted to our travelogue and recommendations for RVers since 1998 at www.twopennytravels.com.

You can reach me by email. My address is sam@the79scenario.com.

 

Earthquake Facts

501. What causes an earthquake?

An earthquake, or more properly a temblor, is when the earth's surface at some location is made to shake, either a little bit or strongly or even violently.

Energy must be suddenly released to make the earth shake. This may be an explosion of several tons of explosive in a cavern, or a massive rockslide, or a fracture in the earth's crust along a fault. The most common earthquakes come from fault fractures.

The earth's crust has many faults, mostly where different continental plates floating on the magma and pushing or sliding past each other. Friction holds the rock in the crust steady until the stress becomes so great the rock breaks apart like a crack in your windshield.

The break in the rock allows opposite sides of the fault to move past each other, releasing energy that heats the fracture zone and sends waves of shaking outward in all directions. As that shaking moves across the land people feel what are called earthquakes, or temblors.

502. What is the New Madrid Seismic Zone?

The New Madrid Seismic Zone is a seismically active area that runs northeast from near Marked Tree, Arkansas to past Cairo, Illinois. It is a broad band about 350 miles long and 10 to 40 miles wide where the earth's crust is prone to fracture from time to time.

About 250 fractures are recorded in the New Madrid Seismic Zone each year. Most of these are very small and not even noticeable to the locals. A few are strong enough to wake people up in the middle of the night.

In 1811 and 1812 a series of giant earthquakes wracked the region, the largest seismic events recorded in modern history in the United States.

503. Where did the New Madrid Seismic Zone come from?

Seismologist and geologists have studied the New Madrid Seismic Zone for many years, mapping the location of the fault by locating the small fractures as they occur and studying the whole lay of the land using satellite photography.

Current theory is that about 200 million years ago the rock started to pull apart in the crust that is now beneath the Mississippi River Valley, forming a gigantic crack, or rift. A similar rift to the east created what is now the Atlantic Ocean.

But the Reelfoot Rift, as it is now called, stopped after it had spread about 70 miles. The volcanoes that had formed in the middle of the rift went dormant and the valley that had been created filled in with sand and clay that eventually became solid rock. More and more sediment was deposited on top of that ancient rift.

The dead remains of the rift are still there beneath the Mississippi River, but now they are a weak spot in the crust. As the North American continental plate gets shoved around, the Reelfoot Rift is one of the places that is easier to break than elsewhere. Now we see lots of small fractures on the old rift, and occasionally we feel the shaking of some very large fractures.

504. When was the last big earthquake on the New Madrid Fault?

Within the last twenty years there have been several earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault with magnitudes as high as 5.0.

In 1895 an earthquake estimated to be of magnitude 6.8 struck on the New Madrid Fault not far from Charleston, Missouri in the Missouri bootheel country. That is near the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. That is the same magnitude as the earthquake that struck Northridge, California in 1997.

The really big earthquakes were back in 1811 and 1812 when a series of three giant earthquakes struck along the fault in a two-month period. Their estimated magnitudes range from 8.2 to 8.6. There were two aftershocks with magnitudes above 8.0. Many more aftershocks struck the region with magnitudes up to the 7 range.

Aftershocks continued in the area for another five years before diminishing to a level that people were willing to accept and return to live in the region.

505. How does the New Madrid Fault compare to the San Andraes Fault in California?

The New Madrid Seismic Zone has three distinct regions: the southern end appears to be a slip-strike fault much like the SanAndreas with most small temblors occurring along a northeast line from Marked Tree to Tiptonville. North of that section, under what is now Reelfoot Lake and running to the northwest, is a region that appears to be a thrust fault zone; the small temblor activity is spread out over a large region. Coming out of the north end of that zone is a diffuse area tending to the northeast that extends up under Cairo and beyond.

The San Andreas is a well marked fault whose trace runs from the Salton Sea and disappears into the Pacific Ocean at Tomales Bay north of San Francisco. That trace marks the boundary between the North American continental plate to the east and the Pacific plate to the west. Its path is clearly visible throughout most of its trace.

On the other hand, the New Madrid Fault is buried beneath the flood plains of the Mississippi River, and its trace is hard to find. Nowhere can one find actual ruptures of the surface from past earthquakes. It is an inter-plate fault and not at a plate boundary. As a result, much less is understood about the New Madrid than about the San Andraes. Geologists are still arguing about just what is the mechanism that produces earthquakes in the seismic zone.

Size wise, the New Madrid and the San Andraes are similar in lengths and in their capability to produce very large earthquakes.

506. What are the chances for a 7.9 magnitude earthquake really happening?

In 1996 the best estimates from the geologists and paleoseismologists were that the average time between great earthquakes on the New Madrid was 270 years, and that figure has been used for a number of studies and cost/benefit analyses. Expressed as a probability, they said there was a 25% chance of a great earthquake happening in the next fifty years.

More recently the USGS says that there is a one in ten chance of a great earthquake between 7.5 and 8.0 magnitude occurring in the next fifty years.

Now "great" means 7.4 or higher, and a 7.9 is assumed to be less frequent that a 7.4, so you have to make a judgement call.

More recently, seismologists in New Mexico have questioned if the data really supports the 270 year figure and suggest the time should be somewhere between 400 and 1000 years.

I am concerned when I hear that this possible change has then been used as an argument for changing the cost/benefit analyses to show that earthquake mitigation is not needed in the Memphis area.

Based upon the past history as we know it of the New Madrid Fault, I would say that there is a 100% probability that a magnitude 7.9 earthquake will occur on the fault sometime in the future. I just cannot say when. For my novel just when it happens does not matter, for what I describe in The 7.9 Scenario is what results when that earthquake happens.

This is like playing Russian Roulette with either a six-chamber revolver or a twelve-chamber revolver. The probability changes when you select a different firearm, but the risk stays constant. If you pull up the wrong chamber you blow your brains out.

507. What would I feel where I live from a 7.9 magnitude earthquake?

The immediate effects you will feel all depends on where the earthquake is and where you happen to be at the time. Suppose a 7.9 magnitude earthquake does occur on the southern extension of the New Madrid.

If you are within 100 miles of the seventy-mile long fracture trace that runs from Lepanto, Arkansas to Ridgely, Tennessee, you will experience shaking lasting well over a minute with accelerations from 20% to 100% of gravity. Your life will be in grave danger if you are inside a structure of any kind.

If "here" happens to be three hundred miles away from the fracture, you will experience a significant amount of shaking, enough to make it difficult to drive. It will wreck some of the buildings around you.

If "here" is five hundred to one-thousand miles away, you will probably feel the swaying back and forth of the earth. Some things may fall, but there probably will not be any significant damage.

If "here" is in California, you will know of what is happening from TV and radio, but you will not feel anything. Seismographs around the world will be able to measure the ringing within the earth for several hours afterwards, but the vibrations are too small to feel.

For everyone outside the zone of destruction the effects will be delayed, but they will happen. A very significant portion of the economy of the United States will have been destroyed, and the impact will be felt for years.

508. What about smaller earthquakes on the New Madrid?

On the average 250 temblors occur each year in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Typically 96% of them measure less than 3.0 in magnitude and most are never felt by anyone. However, the network of seismic sensors scattered across the farmlands of Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee provide scientists with a good picture of the activity along the fault.

There average about 10 events on the New Madrid of magnitude 3.0 or higher. Some of the recent events have been as high as 5.0.

509. Why do you say only man-made things are destroyed in an earthquake?

Earthquakes have shaken the Mississippi River valley for millions of years. That shaking, along with erosion, has flattened the land to look like a pool table except where a river has carved out a channel or there has been some sideways movement that raised a pressure ridge or created a depression.

When flat lands shake they simply rock back and forth. There is usually nothing to break.

Trees rise above the flat lands, and when shaken they rock back and forth, but they are generally not in trouble unless they get their branches tangled with each other.

Where there are steep slopes in the land, like on river banks or bluffs there may be landslides. That is what has carved the Chickasaw Bluffs along the river in times past.

Most other structures that rise into the air are man-made: things like bridges, buildings, overpasses, grain elevators, water towers, levees, and dams. Most of these structures are designed to handle the force of gravity that pulls directly downward. Some were designed with added lateral strength to withstand the forces of winds blowing from the side, but few structures were designed with the strength to withstand having their foundations moved back an forth by forces approaching the acceleration of gravity. Under that kind of stress the structures most often break and fall to the lowest level they can find.

510. What are the most dangerous places to be in an earthquake?

Inside a weak structure is the worst place you can be in an earthquake. An adobe or unreinforced masonry building several stories high has been a death trap for many earthquake victims.

Being outside a tall building can be deadly. Falling cornices, window panes, and chimneys take their toll during the shaking.

Don't stand under electric power lines.

If you are driving, avoid being caught on or under a freeway overpass.

The further you can be from the trace of the fracture the better. Don't build your house near a known active fault.

If you are on a fault trace, the worst shaking will be at either end of the fracture. The epicenter may in fact experience less damage.

511. Have you ever encountered research that the new madrid fault is expanding?

No. The New Madrid Seismic Zone is mapped from the small temblors that occur over the entire region from southern Arkansas up into Illinois and extending into Tennessee and Kentucky. Some geologists feel the zone may connect with seismic activity as far away as the Wabash fault in Indiana.

From what I have seen there is no indication that the zone of seismic activity is expanding. However, some recent studies have indicated that there have been earth movements related to the faults, such as the Reelfoot Rift. Some of these very large structures have become apparent only after scientists were able to view satellite photography. What they see seems to have come from past earthquakes, such as the series in 1811 and 1812.

The novel "8.4" by Peter Hernon is based on a hypothetical questions of "what happens if the fault is expanding?" but there has been nothing I have seen in the scientific literature to support that premise.

512. How would a New Madrid earthquake compare to what happened in India in 2001?

In 2001 a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the Gandahar area of India. However, that area is interlaced with earthquake faults, much like California, so the damage was not so widespread as what can be expected in the central United States.

 

Earthquake Data and Calculations

 

601. How can I share in your data and get results specific for my city?

I expect to publish The 7.9 Scenario, Analysis & Writing during this coming year as serialized chapters on this website. The printed version should be available sometime around the end of 2005. That book will provide information about specific locations.

I am also working on a means for providing access to both the calculations and the final data on a county by county basis on my website.

602. What are the USGS Hazard Maps?

USGS provides Hazard Maps showing what kind of intensity and damage might be expected for different areas.

Both the intensity of shaking and the geological structure of the ground enter into how much damage will be experienced.

603. What do the Hazard Maps tell us?

Use the Hazard Maps when you are looking for a place to live. There are some areas around Memphis that are better building sites than others.

You might even want to consider if you want to move to a particular area, even if they offer you a good job.

604. How do I learn more about the New Madrid Fault?

The Internet is an excellent source of information about the New Madrid Fault. I will continue to provide information on my website as it becomes available.

 


contact us | about us | privacy
All materials copyright 2003-2005 Sam Penny unless otherwise indicated.