I thought I might post this from the paper the other day. For those that are not from St. Louis, Chief George was recently fired in a racially motivated scandal in promotions in the St. Loius Fire Department.
Friday's quake could be just 'The Precursor' of a bigger one
By Bill McClellan
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Apr. 21 2008
Excerpts from a speech given to the St. Louis Historical Society on April 21,
Good morning. As you probably know, this is the anniversary of the St. Louis
Earthquake. It struck at precisely 4:52 p.m. on this date 50 years ago. Some of
you have studied it, but for the rest of you, let me recap a little bit.
What is now known as "The Precursor" had struck early in the morning three days
earlier. Not much more than a little rumble — a shaking of the bed, is the way
many people described it — on a Friday morning at approximately 4:30. The
Precursor measured 5.2. Scientists pinpointed the epicenter five miles from the
town of Bellmont in southeastern Illinois.
The people of St. Louis were surprised — and perhaps even relieved — to learn
that this was not the New Madrid Fault, but the Wabash Valley Fault. I think
it's safe to say that few people had even heard of the Wabash Valley Fault.
I'm not saying we know everything about earthquakes now — we certainly don't —
but it's surprising how little we knew back in 2008.
Not even the scientists of that time understood that the activity in the Wabash
Valley Seismic Zone was simply a reaction to what was happening along the New
The pressure along the New Madrid Fault had already begun to increase on that
Friday morning, and it was that shifting that caused the little bump along the
Wabash Valley Fault. We have a saying now, "When the New Madrid catches cold,
the Wabash Valley sneezes."
People didn't understand that then. They knew nothing of the interconnectedness
of things under the Earth.
In fact, it was the St. Louis Earthquake — more precisely, the fact that the
Precursor had been from another fault — that led scientists to the discovery of
the relationships of one seismic zone to another.
Most of you are familiar with what happened. The rumbling began at 4:52. In
those first moments, it probably seemed much like The Precursor of three days
Then the ground began to undulate. You've seen the home videos. It's as if the
earth had been turned into the sea.
You can actually see the waves. Within seconds, buildings began to collapse.
Gas lines burst. There were explosions, fires. The Gateway Arch rocked back and
forth, and then back and forth again before shearing apart.
It was over in less than a minute, but the survivors didn't believe that. To
them, it seemed like the ground had been moving for a much longer time. Five
minutes, some said. Ten minutes, some said. In reality, the actual duration was
Of course, that was just the start of things. Power was out and wouldn't be
fully restored for weeks.
This occurred during the administration of George W. Bush, which was, as you
know, one of the most inept administrations in our country's history. Some of
you have read, I'm sure, about that administration's response to the hurricane
that devastated New Orleans. The response to the St. Louis Earthquake was even
The rioting and looting started that first night. It was hard to tell which
buildings had caught fire on their own, and which had been torched. No power at
all, and yet the city glowed.
On the second day, civic leaders and ministers took to the streets to try to
bring order out of the chaos. The most effective of these leaders was the
former Fire Chief Sherman George. He was later appointed to head the Rebuilding
Commission, and it was his work on that commission that catapulted him to
mayor, and eventually, of course, to governor.
In a sense, it was reminiscent of the rise of Raymond Tucker. He was the
Washington University engineering professor who was named Smoke Commissioner in
1934 by Mayor Bernard Dickmann and asked to do something about the heavy smog
that used to hang over St. Louis in the winter.
You might remember the famous Black Christmas of 1927 when it was almost pitch
black at noon.
So successful was Tucker that he later ran for mayor and beat the establishment
candidate, Mark Eagleton, whose son, Tom, would become a U.S. senator.
I bring up Tucker because he had a street named after him, the old 12th Street.
It had tunnels underneath it, and so completely cratered during the earthquake
Many of the fatalities were people who worked along what was then called Tucker
Boulevard. Maybe that's why when the street was rebuilt, the name Tucker was
discarded in favor of a return to 12th Street.
Eventually, 12th Street was dropped and the street became what it is today —
Now, before I close, I'd like to ask for a moment of silence for all those
folks who lost their lives in this city 50 years ago today.