Letter to the Editor

New Madrid bicentennial

The next three months mark the 200th anniversary of the New Madrid quakes which rocked parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee in 1811-1812. Massive tectonic plates deep below began stretching and burping. Rivers changed course and ran backward. Gaseous crevasses swallowed cattle and buildings.

If an 1811-sized quake struck under New Madrid now, damage would be staggering. One scenario projects 3,500 dead, 80,000 hurt, 730,000 displaced, 2.6 million without electricity. Countless schools, hospitals and fire stations built pre-1940 would be rubble. Ruined bridges would paralyze barge, truck and rail traffic in and out of the nation's breadbasket.

The message of the New Madrid quake bicentennial to area residents: be prepared! Have an emergency plan and disaster kit. And join the Feb. 7 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, an 11-state earthquake drill that last year had three million participants. Their advice: "ShakeOut. Don't Freak Out!" Their drill: "Drop, Cover, Hold on!"

CLAUDE WALKER, Chicago, Ill.