Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/81

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77
OUR GREATEST EARTHQUAKES

cracks to open where the surface was bent and the swells burst. Giants of the forest were split for forty feet up the stump, half standing on one side of the fissure and the remainder on the other. In one instance a crack opened in a cellar, swallowing a large number of castings just received from Pittsburg and temporarily stored away there.

Some of the earthquake rents were of great size, having widths of thirty feet or more, while some are reported as many as five miles in length. Others were circular in form, making basin-like depressions up to several hundred feet in diameter. Into some of these cracks rushed the waters from swamps and bayous, while elsewhere small streams or even rivers left their old beds and made new channels through the cracks. In one instance, a settler living on a neck of land lying within a great bend or ox-bow started at daybreak the morning after the quake to go to his well which the night before had been in his yard. But no well was there! Instead the river was at his door. Glancing across the water, however, the well could be seen on the further side. During the night a crack had been formed between the house and the well and had been taken possession of by the waters, leaving both unharmed though on opposite sides of the stream.

Accompanying the cracking in many instances there seemed, according to one observer, "a blowing out of the earth, bringing up coal, wood, sand, etc., accompanied with a roaring and whistling produced by the impetuosity of the air escaping from the confinement... trees being blown up, cracked and split, and falling by thousands at a time. The surface settled and a black liquid rose to the belly of the horses." The atmosphere was saturated with 'sulphurous vapor,' due to the gases escaping from the decaying vegetation and coaly matter (lignite) deep below the surface in the deposits of the prehistoric Mississippi. These gases tainted the air for miles and so affected the streams and rivers that the waters, even to a distance of one hundred and fifty miles below, could not be used for several days. The intense darkness caused by these vapors in the night, and the murky purplish tinge imparted to the atmosphere by day, produced a vivid and never to be forgotten impression on every one who passed through the experience.

It was along the Mississippi that the destruction reached a maximum. A traveler on a flatboat, tied up to the bank about forty miles below New Madrid, speaking of the first shock, says that the men, wakened by the quake, sprang to the deck thinking the Indians had made an attack. After daylight, as they were preparing to depart, "a loud roaring was heard, sounding like steam escaping from a boiler. This was accompanied by a violent agitation of the shores and tremendous boiling up of the waters in huge swells which tossed the boats so violently that the men with difficulty could keep upon their feet. The sandbars and points of islands gave way, swallowed up in