New Madrid Quake Prediction Makes Some Shake While Others Want to Party


While some people are stockpiling bottled water in preparation for a possible earthquake in the New Madrid Fault zone, Jack Hailey is amassing beer.

Hailey, the owner of Hap's Bar and Grill, is planning an all-day Shake, Rattle and Roll Party on Dec. 3--the date of a projected earthquake along the fault.

The party will feature a bottomless pot of gumbo for his regulars and all the media representatives expected to be in town. A St. Louis rock 'n' roll radio station will broadcast live from the tavern.

However, many people are taking the projection more seriously.

Schools throughout southeast Missouri's Bootheel region already have canceled classes for the day. Stores have found it difficult to keep in stock items such as bottled water, can openers and other emergency supplies. And travel agents have been busy helping people make plans to be out of town that week.

All the commotion stems from the work of Iben Browning, a climatologist and business consultant from Sandia Park, N.M. Browning says tidal forces coming to a head on or about Dec. 3 will create a 50-50 chance for an earthquake measuring 7.0 or greater.

The New Madrid Fault zone runs roughly from Marked Tree, Ark., through the Missouri Bootheel and into Southern Illinois. Experts say the fault zone produces about 200 quakes a year, most hardly felt.

At Travel with Flair in Sikeston, about 20 miles north of here, a sign outside advertises a special rate for a trip to Cancun, Mexico, with the motto: "Get Out of Town Quake Sale."

"We get a lot of calls about getting out of town in that time frame," manager Joe Miller said. "The hysteria down here is unbelievable. One guy today bought a one-way ticket to Phoenix. He said he'd buy (a ticket back) when the earthquake's over."

Some people apparently are planning to sit out the quake in Springfield, on the western side of the state.

That city's Convention and Tourists Bureau ran a one-day ad in several Bootheel newspapers promoting 10% to 50% discounts on hotel rooms for the week of Dec. 3.

The "Take a Break from the Quake" ad generated more than 400 responses, Tracy Kimberlin, the bureau's executive director, said.

"Springfield sits on a great deal of bedrock,' Kimberlin said. "All the information we have read says that Springfield would feel it but would have little if any damage. On the other hand, Memphis and St. Louis could be a different story."

The ad happened to run on Sept. 26, the day the Bootheel and surrounding states were jolted by a moderate earthquake that caused no structural damage or injuries but rattled already frazzled nerves.

That quake, measuring 4.6, was centered near New Hamburg, about 20 miles north of Sikeston. It was followed by a 3.0 aftershock that evening and a 2.6 aftershock on Oct. 30.

Jack Westrich, owner of Schindler's Tavern, learned then about the interest the news media has in the quake projection. His place was besieged by reporters and photographers looking for good quotes and pictures.

This time, he will be ready with free barbecue and 75-cent "I Survived the New Hamburg Earthquake--Save Your Water, Drink at Schindler's Tavern" bumper stickers. The price of beer may go up, however.

Just to the northeast, in Cape Girardeau, students at Southeast Missouri State will be starting their last week of classes before final exams. At least, that's what the calendar says they'll be doing. Kim Reeves thinks differently.

"I've got a feeling half of the students will fly the coop," said Reeves, managing editor of the student paper, The Capaha Arrow.

Missouri's Gov. John Ashcroft doesn't plan to shy away from the region, though. In fact, Ashcroft recently planned a trip to the Bootheel on Dec. 3 and 4 to visit several agricultural enterprises and to help alleviate people's fears.

"He's going to southeast Missouri because Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 are like any other days," said the governor's spokesman, Bob Ferguson.

Ashcroft's office already had rejected a request from Bootheel county clerks to reschedule a special Senate election set for Dec. 4. The clerks expressed concern that voter turnout would be cut because of people leaving town.

Arnold Bell, school superintendent in Caruthersville, said: "It's easy, I guess, to say, if you don't live here, that it's silly to worry about quakes and all.

"But we live with it, and it's hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the concern," he said. "The concern is coming from well-meaning, truly concerned parents and staff members. . . . They're frightened."

Virtually every school from Cape Girardeau south to the Arkansas line has scheduled at least two days off. Many school officials said it was ludicrous to hold school with most parents planning to keep their children at home.

Missouri education officials say there has never been so many school closings in advance of an event. They say as many as 40,000 students will be out of school on Dec. 3 and 4. Similar school closings have been reported in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois.

Virginia Carlson would like to have the day off. She is the director of the New Madrid Historical Museum, where T-shirts--"Visit New Madrid While It's Still Here" and "It's Our Fault"--go for $10. She knows the 1886 building probably wouldn't be safe in a major quake.

But there have been record numbers of visitors since the earthquake hype started, and the media requests have been overwhelming. The museum will be broadcast headquarters for CNN and a St. Louis radio station on Dec. 3.

"I think I'm going to kind of stand with one foot out the door," Carlson said.

Everyone agrees on one thing: It's about time people in the New Madrid Fault zone prepared for a major earthquake, because one could occur any day.

"It's had some definite pluses," Carlson said. First, the preparedness awareness. And second, "now everybody knows how to pronounce our name."

It's New MAD-drid.

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