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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: The New Madrid Earthquake Scare of 1990

Southeast Missouri State University

It seems like Almost Yesterday that residents of southeast Missouri became keenly interested in the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. The series of 19th century tremors along the New Madrid fault have been reported as the most severe in the history of North America. Stories continue to be told, true or not, that the Missouri quakes were of such force that they rang church bells in the East and caused the Mississippi River to flow backward.

This new level of historical curiosity was motivated by an account from Dr. Iben Browning who asserted that the 19th century quakes had been caused by tidal forces and that similar conditions would exist on December 3, 1990.

Dr. Browning did not predict that there would be an earthquake on that date, but that the conditions would be similar to that of 1811-12, and thus, the probabilities increased.

Discussion of this controversial theory received limited attention until 8:19 A.M., Wednesday, September 26, 1990. At that moment an earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale shook the region.

Residents reported hearing a loud “crack” followed by several seconds of vigorous shaking. Most people in the region felt the quake and responded. Some raced down stairs and out of doors, others stood quietly, in wonder. Everyone now knew that earthquakes were real – and a bit frightening.

December 3, 1990, became an important date. During October and November, a wide range of preparations and reactions occurred.  Some residents panicked, some scoffed, only a few ignored. 

On December 3, the town of New Madrid, Missouri was crowded with the curious, but the New Madrid fault was quiet – there was no earthquake. But it seems like almost yesterday...


Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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