U.S. New Madrid Fault - With the eight-state region around the New Madrid fault being home to millions, a record-setting quake such as that of 1812 could cost thousands in lives, billions in infrastructure and demand a national response greater than Hurricane Katrina, officials said. Citing the New Madrid fault’s 200-year quake cycle, experts say the time to prepare is now. The chances of a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault within the next 10 years is about 5 percent. Odds of a devastating quake are much greater as time goes by. With an estimated 50,000 square miles strongly feeling a major quake along the New Madrid fault, no Midwest state would be immune to its effects.
It’s a bleak scenario. A massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault
kills or injures 60,000 people in Tennessee. A quarter of a million
people are homeless. The Memphis airport – the country’s biggest air
terminal for packages – goes off-line. Major oil and gas pipelines
across Tennessee rupture, causing shortages in the Northeast. In
Missouri, another 15,000 people are hurt or dead. Cities and towns
throughout the central U.S. lose power and water for months. Losses
stack up to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Fortunately, this magnitude 7.7 temblor is not real but rather a
scenario imagined by the Mid-America Earthquake Center and the Institute
for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington
University. The goal of their 2008 analysis was to plan for a modern
recurrence of quakes that happened along the New Madrid fault more than
200 years ago, in 1811 and 1812.
No one alive has experienced a major earthquake in the Midwest, yet
geologists say it’s only a matter of time. That puts a lot of
uncertainty on disaster officials. Their earthquake precautions –
quake-resistant building codes, for example – have never been reality
tested. Some question if enough has been done to strengthen existing
buildings, schools and other infrastructure. It is difficult to prepare
for a geological catastrophe the public cannot see and has never
“We mostly react to disasters, and it’s been extremely rare that we
get ahead of things,” said Claire Rubin, a disaster response specialist
in Arlington, Va. “A lot of hard problems don’t get solved. They get
moved around and passed along.”
Steven L. Lueker is among disaster response officials who worry about
the New Madrid fault and another fault to the north, in the Wabash
Valley. He’s the emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County
in Southern Illinois, and he rattles off likely impact statistics. One
of the most important: The New Madrid fault is expected to generate a
large-scale earthquake within the next 50 years.
“I may not be here when it happens,” said Lueker. “Or it may happen while we’re talking. You don’t know.”
FYI: THE NEW MADRID FAULT SYSTEM EXTENDS 120 MILES SOUTHWARD from the area of Charleston, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois, through New Madrid and Caruthersville, following Interstate 55 to Blytheville and on down to Marked Tree, Arkansas. It crosses five state lines and cuts across the Mississippi River in three places and the Ohio River in two places.
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