Two hundred years ago, the American Midwest was shaken by the strongest earthquake human beings had ever felt in that region. Is another quake overdue? What lessons can we learn?
Two hundred years after a historic earthquake struck the town of New Madrid, will we be ready when the next "big one" strikes? Two hundred years after a historic earthquake struck the town of New Madrid, will we be ready when the next "big one" strikes
"At just past 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning, December 16, 1811, most of the residents of New Madrid, Missouri, were asleep when their reverie was suddenly broken by the sounds of their sturdy cabins creaking. The small town's citizens were thrown from their beds, which began to shake violently. The floors heaved wildly, and the walls groaned, wrenching from their foundations.… Many of the cabins crumbled, falling to the ground in piles of rubble. Some caught on fire as the logs in the walls fell like toothpicks into the fireplaces that were meant to keep the residents warm that chilly night." This is how author William Atkinson, in his book The Next New Madrid Earthquake, described the most powerful series of earthquakes the United States has ever experienced (p. 9).The temblors originated in what is now called the New Madrid Seismic Zone, an area stretching from west of Memphis, Tennessee into southern Illinois. By mid-March 1812, three earthquakes estimated at magnitude 7 to 8 on the Richter scale had struck, as had hundreds of aftershocks. Shaking was felt from the Rocky Mountains in the western U.S. to the Capitol in Washington DC, and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Author James Penick points out that the area in which moderate tremors could be felt reached a shocking one million square miles (The New Madrid Earthquakes, p. 6).
Though the earthquakes were severe, casualties were low, as the area at that time was only sparsely populated. Those earthquakes of two centuries ago left their mark on the landscape of the Midwest. "The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall—bending the trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hillsides; large areas of land were uplifted permanently; and still larger areas sank and were covered with water that erupted through fissures or craterlets… High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared" ("Pentagon Nightmare: Fukushima on the Mississippi," WIRED.com, August 24, 2011). Huge waves sank many boats and deposited others high up the banks of the Mississippi River. The big river even appeared to flow backward for a time as a result of these awesome temblors.
How would people cope if another monster earthquake were to strike the central U.S. today? Could this really happen? Will it happen?
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has held exercises to find out how people may respond in the event of another major earthquake in the New Madrid area. On May 16, 2011, more than 10,000 rescue personnel gathered at 135 sites across the region to simulate the response to a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, combined with a secondary 6.0 quake triggered in the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone, centered at Mt. Carmel, Illinois ("National Level Exercise 2011 Quick Look Report," Federal Emergency Management Administration, June 14, 2011).
The results were chilling. Officials estimated a death toll of 100,000 out of 15 million people living in the quake zone. More than seven million would be displaced, with two million needing emergency shelter. Direct financial losses would total $300 billion, with indirect costs soaring to double that. Furthermore, with 15 nuclear power plants in the region, the U.S. could have its own "Fukushima on the Mississippi," with a disaster quickly spinning out of control.
Such a quake would bring truly disastrous consequences for the Midwest. "If the nightmare scenario comes, government officials worry that state and federal authorities will not be able to handle the 'cascading failures' that follow," according to Paul Stockland, senior homeland security official for the U.S. Defense Department, at a recent Aspen Security Forum gathering. "A couple of things keep me up at night," he said, explaining that another New Madrid quake is one of them. "[It is] so much bigger than anything we've faced—way beyond Hurricane Katrina" ("Pentagon Quake Nightmare: Fukushima on the Mississippi," WIRED.com, August 24, 2011).
Experts agree that the "worst-case scenario" could be catastrophic, but they differ as to the probability of such a catastrophe. Some say a repeat of the 1811–12 quakes is long overdue. Others say the chances are slim. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a 25–50 percent risk that a magnitude 6 or higher quake will strike the New Madrid Seismic zone in the next few decades, and that there is a 10 percent chance of a quake with magnitude 7 or higher ("New Madrid Earthquake Bicentennial Remains Central Topic at Memphis Conference," USGS.gov, April 15, 2011).
Should we be concerned? Most experts say it is impossible to predict an earthquake. Instead, they deal with probabilities—little better than guesswork, because quakes can strike anywhere, anytime. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake last August 23 that struck near Richmond, Virginia—where no known fault is—is a reminder of this. Every family should prepare ahead of time for what to do in case of earthquake or other emergency.
Beyond this, there is a factor that cannot be ignored. There is a God of heaven and earth, who created all things, and who uses physical forces to accomplish His divine will. As sinning humanity spirals out of control, the Bible warns that there will be more—and more powerful—earthquakes to wake us up! Considering this clear warning from Scripture, we all should be concerned.
Careful readers of the Bible understand that God uses weather events to humble us, to teach us lessons through suffering and to encourage us to draw closer to Him. When Jesus Christ addressed His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He warned of what would happen in the days just prior to His return, saying: "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars… For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6–8).
God has a plan for human history (see "Is This 'The End of History'?" on page 16 of this issue). The first 6,000 years of that plan—mankind's time to go its own way and bear the pain and consequences for doing so—will soon come to a close. Scripture warns that, just before this age ends, we will enter a time of calamity like none that has ever come before. As Christ said, these are just "the beginning of sorrows."
God will use earthquakes in a powerful way as He intervenes dramatically on earth: "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island wasmoved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Revelation 6:12–17).
Do we believe God when He says this will happen? That He will literally shake the earth to wake up His children who are going the wrong way? God is not pleased with the moral degradation of the U.S. and other nations that profess to be "Christian" while leading the world in behavior He says He "hates" (Malachi 2:16)! The Western nations kill unborn babies and call it "family planning" and a matter of "choice." A majority of Americans now say they support same-sex "marriage" ("Connubial bliss in America," Economist, July 30, 2011, p. 30) though the Bible—both Old Testament and New Testament—condemn homosexuality as an unnatural sin and abomination (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:27)!
Meanwhile, youths riot out of control in London streets, and "flash mobs" across the U.S. prey on retail stores in a disturbing new crime trend. Some 40 million Americans are regularly involved in pornography on-line, destroying their own character and ripping apart the fabric of their marriages and families. As the American Psychological Society reported, "Finding pornography on the Internet is as easy as Googling the word 'sex,' as the 40 million Americans who visit porn Web sites each year can attest" (APA Monitor, November 2007, p. 50). Americans are no more disciplined financially, as their nation staggers under skyrocketing debt while its economy stagnates. Many are sensing that something has gone terribly wrong!
How long will it be before God removes His blessing? How long before He allows the U.S. and other modern descendants of ancient Israel to suffer a "Haiti"-sized earthquake, or a "Fukushima"-type disaster? God warns us against the foolishness of not taking His gentle correction, lest He need to use more severe methods to get our attention: "Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded… Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me… For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them" (Proverbs 1:23–24, 28, 32).
The end of this age is drawing near. Are we willing to serve the God of heaven and earth, or are we only trying to serve ourselves? Jesus Christ commands us to repent! Sadly, most will not heed that warning. Christ said, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:12–13).
Where is the most dangerous fault-line today? Fault-lines are fractures in the earth's crust. When rapid movement occurs in a fault area, energy is released and earthquakes result. So, which rifts pose the greatest threat to the U.S.? Which pose the greatest threat to the United Kingdom, Canada and the other modern descendants of ancient Israel?
No, not the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Not the San Andreas Fault in California, or the Aleutian Megathrust fault-line in Alaska. Not the fault that spawned the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.
The greatest danger we face does not come from a fracture in the earth's crust—it comes from a fracture in our relationship with God. God inspired the prophet Isaiah to write: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1–2). Truly, the most dangerous "fault-line" is in the human heart and mind. The most dangerous condition is to be in rebellion against God!
Notice how Isaiah describes sinning humanity: "For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity… The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace" (Isaiah 59:3–4, 8).
How will God be able to get the attention of such sinful and rebellious people? For one thing, He will shake the earth mightily! The Apostle John recorded this event in advance: "And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found" (Revelation 16:18–20).
It is sobering to imagine an earthquake stronger than ever before in history, which will cause cities all over the world to fall! But even after such divine intervention, human stubbornness is so great that some still will not repent: "And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great" (v. 21).
But what about you? If God is calling you today, are you responding? Are you seeking Him with heartfelt repentance? Isaiah also urged us: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6–7).
God is merciful and forgiving, if we are willing to repent and turn away from sin, and genuinely do our best to live His way through His help. Are you willing?
Calamities will intensify as the end of the age draws near. But God does not leave us without encouragement or direction in the coming perils. Along with warnings about the future, Jesus Christ reassured us, "See that you are not troubled" (Matthew 24:6) and, "Do not be terrified" (Luke 21:9). We need not face the future with fear! We can be at peace, even in troublesome times. God admonishes us to be careful and watchful, and to endure trials patiently, for "by your patience possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). As the world begins to disintegrate and crumble around us, Jesus Christ implores us not to be discouraged, nor distracted from following Him faithfully.
However, He also commands us to amend our ways and to live in truth, righteousness and obedience. Does that mean we can earn salvation? Of course not! Salvation is a gift from God, not wages earned as a debt owed to us (Romans 4:4). But God makes it clear that we do earn a wage if we practice unrighteousness: sin, wickedness and rebellion against God's law. That wage is pain, suffering and, eventually, death! "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
Christ inspired John to write that, in the end times, the "earth" will miraculously help God's people in the coming calamitous days. Notice what John recorded will happen as His faithful people flee to a place of refuge to escape the Tribulation: "But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water [armies] out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth" (Revelation 12:14–16). God will cause a great earthquake to swallow up armies and forces sent by the Devil to destroy God's people. Clearly, God is the greatest protection and only defense in the coming days!
How can you make sure you will be standing on solid ground in the coming tumultuous times? How can you and your family endure the coming collapse of our nations? Repent and obey God from the heart! As David said, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved" (Psalm 55:22). Jesus Christ said, "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock" (Matthew 7:24–25).
Do not let the coming earthquakes and other natural disasters catch you and your family off guard. Be ready for emergencies. Be prepared. Have a plan. But, most of all, put your spiritual house in order. God is our rock, our shelter, and our defense. When the "Big One" hits, make sure you are standing on solid ground!