According to Collins English Dictionary, 12th Edition copyright 2014, an earthquake is a sudden release of energy in the earth’s crust or upper mantle, usually caused by movement along a fault plane or by volcanic activity and resulting in the generation of seismic waves which can be destructive.

An earthquake is seldom just one seismic wave. There are earthquakes and aftershocks, sometimes going on for months.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 16, 1811, the most powerful earthquake to hit the contiguous US.. struck what is now northeast Arkansas. Little damage was done to man-made structures as the area was so sparsely populated, but with tremors lasting one-to-three minutes, people were awakened as far away as New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Charleston, South Carolina. It is estimated that strong tremors were felt over an area of 50,000 square miles and moderate tremors were felt over an additional one-million square miles. Although deadly, it was estimated the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was only moderately felt over a 6,200 square-mile area. An aftershock of almost equal intensity hit about six hours later at 8:15 a.m.

Witnesses reported: The ground rose and fell, some areas were covered with water which came from fissures. There were landslides down steep bluffs and hillsides. Hugh waves overwhelmed many boats on the Mississippi River and washed other boats high on shore. Whole islands disappeared. Chimneys toppled and log cabins were thrown down in Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and in other parts of Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Two other quakes occurred on the Missouri side. The first struck Jan. 23, 1812, about 9 a.m. in Missouri’s bootheel. There was much ground warping, ejections, fissuring, landslides, and caving of stream banks. This quake was thought to have been caused by a rupture on the New Madrid North Fault, which probably put strain on the Reelfoot Fault.

The second quake on the Missouri side hit on Feb. 7, 1812, around 3:45 a.m. New Madrid was destroyed and many homes in St. Louis were severely damaged. Temporary waterfalls were created on the Mississippi River at Kentucky Bend, uplifts of the ground created waves that gave the illusion that the river was flowing upstream, and Reelfoot Lake was formed by obstructing streams.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says Missouri experiences small earthquakes nearly everyday.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to