The big one did not happen Monday, but the prediction that a major earthquake would shake the New Madrid Fault and the Wasatch Fault was enough to convince students to stay home from school, while their parents assembled emergency preparedness kits.

However, throughout the country the biggest rumble was generated by dozens of news reporters, who hyped the prediction and then rushed about to see how people were responding.Most people say they did not believe New Mexico climatologist Iben Browning's prediction that a major earthquake was going to occur Monday. Nonetheless, many residents and schools have spent the past two weeks getting prepared - just in case.

Nationally, people who believed the forecast looked to Tuesday and Wednesday as days still possible for a giant seismic jolt.

Schools were closed in many districts in a seven-state area along the New Madrid Fault on Monday because Browning projected a 50 percent chance of a major quake striking within 48 hours of Dec. 3.

Last week was one of the busiest ever for survival stores. Other stores reported a rush on flashlights, batteries, canned goods and bottled water. Brent Dixon, an assistant manager at Smith's Food and Drug in Orem, said many of last weekend's shoppers were specifically buying earthquake-readiness items.

"They completely wiped out our shelves of bottled water, and we sold a lot of batteries and canned goods," Dixon said. "And I'm sure that we would have sold a lot more had we had a more sufficient supply."

Jill Tuttle, of Springville, is one of many local residents who spent the past few weeks getting ready for an earthquake. She changed clothing in her family's emergency backpacks, filled up water containers and made sure a wrench was placed near the natural gas valve. She said Browning's prediction served as a reminder that she needed to be prepared and that she never really expected an earthquake to occur Monday.

"I've had my 72-hour kit and things ready for years, but I thought this was as good a time as any to update things and fill up a few more bottles of water," Tuttle said Tuesday. "I slept good last night."

The mere prediction of a quake kept about 300 students in two Ogden schools home Monday.

Eileen Rencher, spokeswoman for the State Office of Education, said more than 200 of the 550 students at Mound Fort Middle School and more than 100 of Gramercy Elementary School's 425 students stayed away Monday.

Administrators in Granite, Jordan, Murray and Salt Lake school districts noticed no increase in absences due to earthquake fears.

But Jean Jones, attendance secretary at Maeser Elementary School in Provo, said she received calls Monday morning from about 15 parents who said they were keeping their children home from school.

Most schools have in place an emergency preparedness plan, and principals recently made sure teachers and their students knew of their roles in case of a disaster.

In Salt Lake City, the University of Utah Seismograph Stations have had numerous calls from people wanting to know what area of the country would be safe.

Edward Kick, chairman of the U.'s Department of Sociology, said people pay more attention to immediate problems than those that may not occur for decades.


(Additional information)

Human nature

Why did many react so strongly to the prediction of a Dec. 2-3 earthquake?

- Human beings want to know the future, and since scientists cannot provide precise earthquake predictions, people look elsewhere for answers.

- Americans are impatient. They want to banish waiting from their lives. They want an earthquake to occur when they're ready, or not at all.

- The public often is confused by the variety of "experts" presented by the news media. News accounts referred to Browning as a scientist without mentioning that his academic background is in biology and his work experience is in climatology.

*Source: Walter Arabasz, director of the University of Utah seismograph stations.