Dozens of schools along the New Madrid Fault canceled classes Monday just in case the Earth rumbles as forecast. And farm animals will decide whether classes should be held in one Illinois county.
Judy Byrd of Evansville, Ind., gave in to her 11-year-old son's request to stay home even though she doesn't believe earthquakes can be forecast."At this age, they really worry about everything. War. An earthquake. Water. The environment," Byrd said. "I figured if he really was that worried about it, it should be up to him."
The nervousness was prompted by New Mexico climatologist Iben Browning's forecast of a 50-50 chance for a major earthquake along the fault this week.
Schools were closed Monday and Tuesday in more than a dozen districts in Arkansas and Missouri. Classes were also canceled in at least three districts in Tennessee and several in Kentucky and Illinois.
Residents of Illinois' St. Clair County were watching cats and dogs as well as farm animals for signs of nervousness and had considered canceling school Monday if there seemed to be a problem. But schoolchildren's hopes of a day off were dashed Monday morning.
"We have a special monitoring committee that's been watching the animals," said Bill Gullick, superintendent of Marissa Community Unit School District 40. "One of the people on the committee is a farmer. He was the last person we checked with early this morning, and everything was OK."
In Marked Tree, dozens of people in the community of 3,200 left town just in case. Not Sterling Ivy."I wouldn't go two steps to try to get away from an earthquake, because if your time comes, you're going to go," Ivy said outside St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Marked Tree.
Marked Tree lies at the southern end of the New Madrid Fault, which runs northeast through New Madrid, Mo., up to Cairo, Ill.
Browning bases his theory on the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, which he says will be particularly strong during the 48-hour period on either side of Sunday. Many scientists say that the theory is nonsense and that no one can predict earthquakes accurately.
In New Madrid, many residents watched the media circus on Main Street.
"I knew there would be a lot of press here, but I never had a clue it would be like this. It's just amazing," said Virginia Carlson, director of the New Madrid Historical Museum, where reporters, photographers and the curious traipsed in and out.
Outside the museum, which documents huge earthquakes along the fault in 1811 and 1812, onlookers took pictures of photographers taking pictures of them. Traffic crawled through jam-packed streets.
Many people bought T-shirts with the slogans "It's Our Fault," and "The Biggest Earthquake That Never Happened."
"The third biggest industry in town is picking up aluminum cans alongside the road," said Leland Phillips. "But now the T-shirt business has zoomed past the can business."
In Memphis, Tenn., 40 miles southeast of Marked Tree, earthquake awareness was also high.
"I had one guy call and ask if Monday's earthquake had been canceled," said Judy Drawdy of the Memphis-Shelby County Emergency Management Agency. "Like this Iben Browning had called off the earthquake. I thought that was rather humorous."
The Center for Earthquake Information and Research at Memphis recorded a small quake in Arkansas on Sunday, but it was not along the New Madrid Fault and caused no reported damage. The temblor, measuring 2.0 on the Richter scale, was centered in the Ozark Mountains, director Arch Johnston said.