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Early in the morning of last May 16th, while most of America was being titillated and transfixed by the appearance in court of the then suspect Dominique Strauss-Kahn, an urgent message was suddenly received at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C. Reports were streaming in of a catastrophic earthquake, magnitude 7.7, that had struck the American Midwest near the town of Marked Tree, Arkansas. First reports were alarming: phenomenal property damage, casualty figures were unprecedented, transportation links were severed, and cities like St. Louis, Memphis, Little Rock, and Cincinnati had been thrown into utter turmoil. Eight states were believed to have been directly affected, and it was believed the death toll would be in the thousands.
A gigantic federal relief mission swung into action. Nine thousand National Guardsmen were ordered to be deployed. Triage centres were opened in all the affected cities—a list which grew longer as a secondary 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck close to the city of Mt. Carmel, Illinois. The Red Cross deployed emergency teams. Power companies were given priority to restore electricity and gas supplies. Heavy equipment was sent in to clear highways and railway tracks.