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The 7.9 Scenario
Book 2 of The 7.9 Scenario: What happens to the rivers WHEN, not IF, a giant earthquake strikes on the New Madrid Fault beneath the Mississippi River? The story of two boat captains caught in that calamity and trying to save their passengers and crew in the sequel to Memphis 7.9.
Saturday morning at 4:58 Central Daylight Time Chris Nelson’s computer workstation at the University of Memphis Seismic Laboratory received notice over the network of a 2.8 magnitude earthquake beneath the tiny town of Cooter in the southeast Missouri Bootheel. The system launched the program called Nelson, the foundation of Chris’s earthquake prediction theory.
In 1811 and 1812 a series of great earthquakes struck the New Madrid Fault. Log cabins, lean-tos and a few tents comprised the man-made structures along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, home to maybe 5,000 white settlers and black slaves. Another 20,000 natives roamed the nearby wooded floodplains and rolling hills. The rivers flowed wild and free as log-boats and the first Mississippi steamboat plied the current near the bluffs that would become Memphis.
Today 55,000,000 souls of all extractions live in the nine states that shook the hardest nearly 200 years ago. Today these two mighty rivers and their major tributaries are man-made structures, reformed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the local Levee Authorities. Dikes line their banks, weirs control their flow, locks manage their traffic, and huge dams form lakes where valleys once prospered. Now the rivers form a giant power generation, transportation, andPro flood control system, a man-made structure destined to be broken.
Data streamed into the workstation over the phone lines from the myriad of remote sensors scattered along the New Madrid Fault. Interpretations arrived from Universities in Little Rock, St. Louis, and Jackson over the Internet. Nelson used all the available information and executed Chris’s latest Prediction Model, directing that the results be stored to the hard disk.
The analysis took three minutes to complete. Nelson stored its findings and returned the workstation to standby. Before the screen saver covered it over, the display proclaimed
Nelson Connected-Asperity Model, Case 141. Prognosis based upon latest actiity at 04:58. Epicenter on asperity #1 at 89.85W, 36.05N, secondary on asperity #2 at 89.97W, 35.89N; initiate at 05:33 CDT Saturday; magnitude 7.9
Excerpt from Chapter 8
Charlie Green steered his 39-foot cabin cruiser at quarter speed up the river toward Osceola through the Driver Cutoff channel, approaching the sandbar at Plum Point Reach, a mile and a half above Fort Pillow. His back still ached from the pounding his boat had received an hour and a half earlier.
He and Sylvie had watched with amazement as waves and choppy waters surrounded their boat when they lay anchored off Fulton. The river churned as if a gigantic frothing monster swam just beneath the surface. No black clouds filled the sky, no breath of wind stirred the air, and yet the waters of the river thrashed as if caught in a gale. Only when Charlie had heard frantic radio calls from several marinas along the shore begging for help did he realize the full extent of the disaster.
Now the river came to life again.
“Sylvie, there’s another earthquake that’s causing this rough water. It must be a big aftershock. There’s no way to tell if it’s bigger than the last time or not, but it is big.”
“Charlie,” his petite wife called from the stern. “Back there where the girls are trapped. It looks like the bluffs are sliding down some more. I see dust and spray around the bottom.” Sylvie again scanned the bluffs through her binoculars. “Yes. The entire bluff is falling into the river. There’s a whole line of trees dropping. It’s just black and red dirt behind it. Charlie, it’s huge.” The alarm in her voice startled her husband.
Looking back, he could see the slide without the aid of the binoculars. “That’s going to create one hell of a big wave,” he said. “This chop will feel smooth by comparison. Come up here beside me.”
“Oh, those poor little girls. They’ll drown. Charlie, we’ve got to go back and try to save them. Maybe we can take them back to Memphis. Can’t we go back? I’m afraid.” Sylvie reached back and touched her husband’s arm.
After a minute the shaking slowed and then ended. “I suppose you’re right. We need to get off this river, and Memphis may be a better place than Osceola if this shaking keeps up. We need to find some place that’s safe. And we can look for the girls along the way, but Sylvie, I don’t hold out much hope for them. That was a really big slide.”
Charlie spun the wheel to starboard and throttling up to 10 knots and headed the boat back down the river. He peered to the east and south. “I’m not going to go too fast. We still have to cross the wave that’s coming from the bluffs.”
He squinted, trying to make the distant image clearer. “You know, even from here I can see where the swell is heading upriver at us. That has to be some big wave to see it this far away.”
He watched a moment longer and then commanded. “Sylvie, go below and get our life jackets, really quick. We may need them. Hurry it up.” He watched with growing alarm as the wave crested over a bar near the shore a mile away. The crest grew to 12 feet high as it crashed into the trees beside the revetment, like a tsunami coming out of the ocean.
“In fresh water they call a wave like that a seiche,” he called over his shoulder. “God, I can’t get caught over shallow water by something like that. It’ll swamp us for sure.” Checking the depth meter, he saw the boat moved in only 10 feet of water, definitely the wrong place to be. He swung the boat hard to port and gunned the engines, racing for the buoys marking the main shipping channel. It became a sprint between his boat and the approaching wave.
“What’s wrong, Charlie?” Sylvie climbed into the pilothouse with the life preservers. “Why did we speed up?”
Charlie gripped the wheel, estimating what his position would be when the wave struck the boat. “I’m running for deep water. I’ve got to get there before that wave hits us.” He explained his plans to Sylvie. “Get hold of something. Just before the wave peaks, I’m turning hard to starboard and head directly into the crest.”
“But you’re going right where the wave will be. Why not go upriver?” Sylvie became more and more alarmed, almost hysterical.
“We can’t outrun that wave. It’s coming too fast. Put that life preserver on, now,” Charlie ordered as he slipped his arms into the straps of his life preserver and pulled the tightening cord. He could see the swell on the surface approaching the boat, closer and closer. “Hang on,” he yelled as he swung the boat back toward the approaching wave and cut to half throttle.
The water rose in front of them. The boat had not quite cleared the edge of the bar. The wave grew and grew, and Charlie pushed the throttle forward to challenge the water.
The large boat rose into the wave, and the wave crested just as the boat reached the top, covering the bow of the boat for an instant. The hull hesitated, hung suspended at the crest, then it slammed forward and with a slap headed down the back slope of the wave, once again racing toward the deeper waters to the south. Behind them, they could hear the wave break with a roar and crash down as it rushed over the bar and on up the river across the islands of Plum Point Reach.
Charlie cut back on the throttle as they moved into the deeper water. He grabbed his wife in his arms and they turned to watch the wave continue up the river. Along the shores and on the islands it grew into a monster tidal wave, sweeping the levees and flooding the low-lying lands. “My God, what will happen when that wave reaches Osceola?” Charlie had never imagined there could be anything on the river like what they had just seen.