A minor earthquake took place about fourteen miles under the Meramec River, on the border between southern Saint Louis County and northeastern Jefferson County in Missouri, roughly ten miles from my home.
Click for map of epicenter
Click here for a world map of recent earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The most damaging earthquakes of the region occurred in 1811 and 1812. According to J. Thomas Scharf, in his book, History of Saint Louis City and County, From the Earliest Periods to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Representative Men. In Two Volumes, Illustrated. Volume II (1883):
[On] Monday, December 16th, St. Louis and the surrounding country were visited by a violent earthquake. The first shock was felt about 2.30 A. M., and lasted about one and three-fourths minutes. Windows, doors, and furniture were in tremulous motion, and there was a distant rumbling noise resembling that made by "a number of carriages passing over a pavement." The sky was obscured by a thick fog, and there was not a breath of air. The temperature was about thirty-five or forty degrees Fahrenheit. At 2.47 A. M. another shock occurred, unaccompanied by any rumbling noise and much less violent than the first. It lasted about two minutes. At 3.34 A. M. a third shock, nearly as violent as the first, but without as much noise, was felt. It lasted about fifty seconds, and a slight trembling continued for some time afterwards. There was a fourth shock shortly after daylight, less violent than any of the others, and lasting nearly one minute, and about eight o'clock there was a fifth shock, almost as violent as the first. It was accompanied by the usual noise, and lasted about half a minute. The morning was very hazy, and unusually warm for the season. "The houses and fences were covered with a white froth, but on examination it was found to be vapor, not possessing the chilling cold of frost. Indeed, the moon was enshrouded in awful gloom." At 11:30 A. M. another slight shock was observed, and about the same hour on the following day "a smart shock" occurred. No lives were lost, and the houses did not sustain much injury. A few chimneys were thrown down and a few stone houses split. The earthquake appears to have covered an extensive area in Southeast Missouri, "seaming the face of the country with yawning gulfs and submerging it with new lakes." The destruction was especially severe at New Madrid. There was a volcanic eruption, and gulfs or fissures from four to ten feet deep, and running north and south parallel with one another, were opened for miles, in some instances for five of them. On the night of Jan. 7, 1812, there was another earthquake, which inflicted much greater damage. Until the 17th of February slight shocks were felt from time to time. On the 17th occurred another terrible convulsion, which exceeded in fury all the previous ones. Gulfs and fissures broader and deeper were opened, "until high land was sunk into hollows, hollows made high land," lakes emptied into the fissures, and where there had previously been dry land "broad, sheeted lakes" created. The residents were panic-stricken, and, abandoning nearly all their cattle and household property, fled from the scene of desolation. "Wreckers" flocked to the deserted town and surrounding country, and carrying off the abandoned property in flat-boats, conveyed it to Natchez and New Orleans and sold it. The extent of country visited by the earthquake embraced a circumference of about one hundred and fifty miles, taking the Indian town of Little Prairie, near Carruthersville, as the centre. The loss of human life was small. A Mrs. Lafont died from fright, and a Mrs. Jarvis was crushed by a falling log. Flat-boats on the river were found wrecked for miles and their cargoes ruined. It is believed that some members of their crews were drowned. There were no indications of any previous earthquake in this section, and no tradition of any such visitation existed among the Shawnees, Cherokees, or Delawares. Since 1812 there have been no violent shocks of earthquake, but at intervals slight commotions have been experienced.The 'volcanic eruption' mentioned was one of many geysers, where water-saturated sand was forcibly ejected out of the ground, forming cones like volcanoes. The geological changes effected by the earthquake are still visible today, especially from the air.