In the winter of 1811-12, the central Mississippi Valley was struck by three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history. Even today, this region has more earthquakes than any other part of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
The 400 terrified residents in the town of New Madrid (Missouri) were abruptly awakened by violent shaking and a tremendous roar. It was December 16, 1811, and a powerful earthquake had just struck. This was the first of three magnitude-8 earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks to rock the region that winter.
Earthquakes in the central or eastern United States affect much larger areas than earthquakes of similar magnitude in the western United States. For example, the San Francisco, California, earthquake of 1906 (magnitude 7.8) was felt 350 miles away in the middle of Nevada, whereas the New Madrid earthquake of December 1811 (magnitude 8.0) rang church bells in Boston, Massachusetts, 1,000 miles away. Differences in geology east and west of the Rocky Mountains cause this strong contrast.
There were temporary river waterfalls where the Mississippi ran backwards during 1811-12 earthquakes.