On Sept. 3, 2016, the community of Pawnee, Okla., experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt by Newton County residents 179 miles away in Stella.

“We are right in between the New Madrid Fault Line and a very active earthquake zone in Oklahoma,” said Charla Geller, Newton County Emergency Management director. 

Since Jan. 1, 2016, Oklahoma has had 1,553 earthquakes at a 2.5 or lower magnitude. Since Jan. 1, 2010, Oklahoma has had 12 4.5 or higher magnitude earthquakes.

“The latest New Madrid earthquakes hit on Jan. 23, 1812, in New Madrid, Mo., at a 7.3 magnitude and Feb. 7, 1812, in southeast Missouri and eastern Tennessee at a 7.5 magnitude,” said Geller.

Both earthquakes were felt 1,030 miles away in New York City and actually woke residents up; Neosho is 328 miles from New Madrid.

“We don’t know when the next one will hit from the New Madrid Fault Line, but we do know that we can expect damages because of all the mining that has happened in Newton County,” said Geller.

Mining started in Granby in 1840 and then also opened in Seneca, Neosho, and in the Jasper area.

“We didn’t have mines in 1812 when the New Madrid occurred, but we have them now and we know to expect some kind of damage, just not how much,” said Geller.

When considering the 5.8 earthquake felt last September and comparing it to the 7.5 earthquake in 1812, the 7.5 is 50 times larger, but 355 times stronger.

“It would take 355 earthquakes like the one we felt in September to equal the energy released from one 7.5 magnitude quake,” said Geller.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) forecast for ground shaking intensity from natural and induced earthquakes in 2016, Newton County should feel moderate shaking, felt indoors by most, and outdoors by many when earthquakes take place.

“We also expect more damage in the most populated areas,” said Geller.

Liquefaction is another factor that Newton County takes into consideration when considering the New Madrid Fault Line.

“It is possible that there is liquefaction around some of the mines here in Newton County,” said Geller.

vSoil liquefaction describes a phenomenon whereby a saturated or partially saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to an applied stress, usually earthquake shaking or other sudden change in stress condition, causing it to behave like a liquid.

“There are a few liquefaction zone lines in Newton County and those are things we need to be aware of when talking about earthquakes,” said Geller.

Over the years Oklahoma has become a larger and larger area for earthquakes which puts Newton County at risk for damage.

“Earthquakes don’t have warnings. They just happen. The best thing we can do is be prepared for them when they do occur,” said Geller.

If you are indoors when an earthquake strikes, stay indoors. Get under a desk or table and hang onto it, or move into a hallway or get against an inside wall.

“Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, and heavy furniture or appliances. If there are big things that you can secure, secure them,” said Geller.

Get out of the kitchen, don’t run downstairs or rush outside while the building is shaking or while there is danger of falling or hurting yourself or being hit by falling glass or debris.

If you are outside, get into the open, away from buildings, power lines, chimneys, and anything else that might fall.

“It’s a great idea to have or start to get emergency supplies in case of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake,” said Geller.

These supplies include:

• Fire extinguisher.

• Adequate supplies of medications that you or family members are taking.

• Crescent and pipe wrenches to turn off gas and water supplies.

• First-aid kit and handbook.

• Flashlights with extra bulbs and batteries.

• Portable radio with extra batteries.

• Water for each family member for at least two weeks (allow at least one gallon per person per day); and purification tablets or chlorine bleach to purify drinking water from other sources.

• Canned and package foods (enough for several days).

• Mechanical can opener.

• Extra food for pets, if necessary.

• Camp stove or barbecue to cook on outdoors.

• Waterproof, heavy duty plastic bags for waste disposal.

“You always need to have a family plan. You need to know where your family is going to meet in case of a natural disaster,” said Geller.

Shaking can make light fixtures fall, refrigerators, and other large items move across the floor, and bookcases and television sets topple over.

“Look around your house for things that could fall or move, then ask yourself if your cupboard doors could fly open, is the TV and stereo fastened down, and are shelves fastened to the wall,” said Geller.

Installing door latches, braces and fasteners to fix most of these questions is a great start for preparing for an earthquake and other disasters.

“Being prepared for one disaster prepares you for all disasters,” said Geller.

Any weather-related damage due to earthquakes should be reported to the USGS or call the Newton County Emergency Management office.

“By reporting the damage, it helps the National Weather Service make better predictions for future hits,” said Geller.

The Newton County Emergency Management Facebook page is updated daily and is a good tool to keep up with natural disasters and warnings in the Newton County area.

“All you can do is be proactive for disasters,” said Geller. “We hope that we are able to help citizens to the best of our ability plan and prepare not only for earthquakes, but for any natural disaster that comes.”

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