It had been hidden for centuries – a horrendous force of nature that would terrify the frontier. In the dead of a cold December night in 1811, a violent earthquake erupted, centered in what is now Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. In a matter of moments, homes collapsed and lives were shattered in what became known as the New Madrid Earthquake. But this first earthquake would be far from the last, and it would have lasting effects.

The epicenter of the December 16 quake was on what is now the border Missouri and Mississippi County in Northeast Arkansas. Geologists later estimated the strength of the earthquake at around Magnitude 7.7 on the Richter Scale, an earthquake intensity scale developed in the 1930s by California geologist Charles Richter. Quakes registering at 2.0 or less are almost never even felt. Only about a dozen quakes measuring greater than 7.0 are measured each year, and quakes beyond 8.0 cause catastrophic damage. The shock wave carried so far away from the area that damage was recorded in Ohio, and it was felt in New York City, more than a thousand miles away.

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