High noon came and went today and the people of New Madrid issued a collective sigh of relief. The great earthquake scare of 1990 seemed to be over.
Noon marked the midpoint in a disputed but disruptive prediction of a major earthquake in the central United States along the 120-mile fault line named for New Madrid.
New Madrid Mayor Dick Phillips, engulfed by a sea of cameras, lights and sound booms, summed it up: “After noon it’s history. I think after today people will rest easier.”
The man in the Tom’s Barbecue truck from St. Louis who had been selling sandwiches packed up and headed out of town.
Some of the invading swarm of news media people had apparently decided as well that the story wasn’t worth another 48 hours of waiting.
The prediction by Iben Browning, a climatologist from New Mexico, called for a quake of 7.0 magnitude 48 hours either side of today. Some schools were closed in parts of five states, police and fire departments were on standby and disaster plans had been drawn up from Arkansas north to Illinois.
For New Madrid, the center of attention because of geography and name, each hour that passed uneventfully spelled relief from a relentless media microscope. Some of the hundreds of press and broadcast representatives and scores of satellite dish-equipped TV trucks were already making plans to depart.
While most residents were hospitable to the intruders, some were showing the strain of being interviewed repeatedly.
“You can’t walk down the street to pick something up at the store without having someone stick a microphone in your face and asking you a lot of questions that you just answered 10 feet earlier,” said Dianne Barrett.
One man sitting on a curb was selling interviews for $5 a shot.
“It’s getting a little tiresome,” said the mayor.