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The 7.9 Scenario: a truly catastrophic disaster
Grad student Chris Nelson predicts an earthquake on the New Madrid Fault. His University advisor stresses no publicity. JQ cheats on seismic retrofits. Locals live in a state of denial. When the 7.9 earthquake fractures 70 miles of the fault, Memphis is destroyed. Casualties number in the hundreds of thousands. Across the central United States ninety-one million people in twenty-two states are at risk with over six million left homeless. The 7.9 Scenario is the worst natural catastrophe to ever strike the United States.
Chris slept, sprawled across the old cot in the electronics room at the University of Memphis Seismic Center. All night he had fine-tuned his earthquake prediction model, the basis for his graduate thesis.
His snores harmonized with the hum of the fans. His left hand twitched in response to some unknown stimulus. The unruly blond hair on his large head matched his wrinkled khaki shirt and shorts. One sandal hung on his big toe, the other had already fallen to the concrete floor. He dreamt of his imminent fame, the praise he would receive as a true prophet, the discoverer of the Holy Grail of Seismology: a method for predicting earthquakes.
In forty-nine seconds, at 9:12.04 a.m. Central Daylight Time, a moderate earthquake on the New Madrid Fault would shake Dell, Arkansas. The prediction that Chris Nelson made last week would become fact. His record would stand at two in a row. He would be one step closer to his dream.
Meanwhile, in seventy-one seconds, another temblor, unpredicted, at the north end of the Calaveras Fault, forty-five miles east of San Francisco, California would relieve some of the strain accumulating from the inescapable half-centimeter per month creep of the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault.
Jenny looked in amazement. The display showed a map of the southern extension of the fault, from Reelfoot Lake through the Missouri bootheel down to Marked Tree, Arkansas. A bright red gash cut through the map, running from south of Tiptonville to just north of Marked Tree.
The caption at the bottom read:
“Nelson Connected-Asperity Model, Case 141. Prognosis based upon latest activity at 08:32. Epicenter on asperity #1 at 89.85W, 36.05N, secondary on asperity #2 at 89.97W, 35.89N; initiate 09:33 CDT Saturday; magnitude 7.9”
Jenny looked at the big clock on the wall. It read five minutes after nine. She reran the model and got the same result. She rechecked her watch and mumbled to herself, “Now Chris wouldn’t construct some practical joke, would he?” She decided to wait in the lab to find out. After all, if the display meant what it said, she need only wait another half-hour to find out.
Besides, Chris had said he would call by 9:30.