A huge quake jolted New Madrid, Missouri, located on the Mississippi River. Many of the town's one thousand residents fled their shaking cabins and ran outdoors, where the quaking ground tossed them about. Scientists later estimated this quake's magnitude at 8.1, making it the most powerful earthquake ever to strike the nation's midsection.
Over the next two months many more quakes, a few of them almost as powerful as the first one, shook the New Madrid region. Few buildings within 250 miles of New Madrid remained intact. The quakes reshaped the land. In places the ground was lifted. In other places it sank. Water filled the sunken areas, creating swamps and lakes, including Reelfoot Lake in the northwest Tennessee. The town of new Madrid was among the places covered by water. It was later rebuilt more than a mile from its former location, which now lies beneath the Mississippi River. The quakes also uprooted forests, triggered landslides, and shook bluffs into the Mississippi River. More quakes just a few months later, on February 7, 1812, temporarily changed the contour of the Mississippi River's bed. As a result, portions of the mighty river flowed backward for several hours.