2015 Marks 200 Years Since First Federal Disaster Declaration... and It Happened In Our Region
2015 is the bicentennial of the Federal Government’s first disaster relief act, passed in the wake of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. The aid, however, came nearly three years after the magnitude 7 and above quakes occurred.
The quakes ruined the land for farming, turning prairies to swamps, carving deep fissures, and creating sand blows that covered the area in sand and mud. But relief came three years after the quakes had done their damage.
Research Associate at the University of Memphis’s Center for Earthquake Research and Information Dr. Kent Moran said aid was likely delayed by slow communication and the War of 1812.
“Congress was not inclined to do disaster relief throughout the pre-civil war time period,” Moran said. “Part of it was the federal government was more limited than we understand it today. It’s only after the civil war when government had a larger and larger role that government became more involved in disaster relief.”
The government had an abundance of land after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Moran says giving land grants to people so they could swap damaged land for undamaged was seen as an equitable way to reestablish people.But he said the relief act caused more problems than it solved.
“When the legislation was passed the word of this legislation reached areas where people took this knowledge and went to the New Madrid area and started buying up damaged land before the news of the relief act had reached the area. Buying it up cheap for pennies on the dollar and cash it in for new land despite you weren’t the original owner,” Moran said.
Moran added those who were defrauded sued to get their land grants, with litigation continuing throughout the pre-Civil War years.