Friday, April 18, 2008
SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL
Here I am in South Bend, Indiana, one of the rustiest cities in the Midwest, whose heyday ended (except for college football fans and Catholic intellectuals) forty-five years ago when Studebaker rolled its last behemoths off the assembly line. Perhaps I shouldn't say behemoths, since the long defunct auto manufacturer produced one of the more innovative small cars of the era, the Avanti, a futuristic fiberglass and metal creation that was, in many respects, before its time. Alas, there's not a lot of innovation here today. The drive from the South Bend airport into the city today is a depressing landscape of small factories, boarded up storefronts, rundown houses, and vacant lots. It's a pretty typical mid-sized Rustbelt city with many remnants of its once powerful industrial past.
The non-academic highlight of my trip here was experiencing my first ever earthquake. Just after 5:30 this morning, I woke up to a long rumble, almost as if a large train were rolling through the sleepy Notre Dame campus. A few hundred miles southwest of here was the epicenter of a temblor that registered 5.2 on the Richter scale.
Much to my geologically illiterate surprise, I discovered that large parts of the Rustbelt are earthquake prone. (See the USGS map above). The epicenter of this morning's quake, the Wabash Valley fault system, part of the New Madrid fault, lies in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri. It's a part of the country dotted with down-at-the-heels small towns, including the remnants of one of the nation's once great coal mining centers.
Back in 1811 and 1812, when huge earthquakes rattled the New Madrid fault, many believers were convinced that the end of time was at hand. No doubt a few Midwesterners today feel that way too, though the last half century of deindustrialization has done more than even the most severe tremors to devastate the old towns in this region.