Entries in New Madrid (1)


Potential Catastrophe: Earthquake Could Devastate Parts of US

Locals FUKUSHIMA MINPO/AFP/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- Would the citizens of Memphis be surprised to know they live along a major fault line? As the nation focuses on the horrors of the earthquake in Japan, many Americans may not be aware that the San Andreas fault line running along the West Coast is not the only region of the U.S. facing risk of catastrophic earthquakes.

And the United States is ill-prepared to cope with catastrophic earthquakes and disasters in general, according to government reports prepared over the past several years. Here is a look at areas of seismic concern located within the United States.

The New Madrid fault line is centered in the central part of the country and could affect more than 15 million people in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. But the roughly 1 million people in the metro Memphis, Tenn., region are considered by the U.S. Geological Survey to be at greatest risk from a quake of 7.0 or 8.0. According to an August 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the potential impact could be devastating.

The report predicts that a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line could lead to catastrophic loss of life, especially for children and first responders. This part of the country appears unprepared in terms its capacity for buildings and infrastructure to survive a major quake. The last big tremblor to hit the New Madrid fault was in a series of four in 1811 and 1812. Those are estimated to have been between 7.0 and 8.0 in magnitude and reportedly made the Mississippi flow backwards.

There are 15 nuclear power plants in the New Madrid fault zone -- three in Alabama alone -- that are of the same or similar design as the site in Japan experiencing problems.

In September, FEMA's associate administrator for Response and Recovery, William Carwile, told a Senate panel that FEMA has five regional groups planning for possible earthquake responses, but a major quake along the New Madrid fault line could displace 7.2 million people and knock out 15 bridges. The response would require 42,000 first responders from local firefighters to the Pentagon.

Another study by the Mid-America Earthquake Center last year estimates that nearly 750,000 buildings would be damaged, 3,000 bridges would potentially collapse, 400,000 breaks and leaks would appear in local pipelines, and $300 billion in direct damage and $600 billion in indirect losses would occur.

South Carolina is home to an active fault line, which could also produce a catastrophic earthquake. A quake in Charleston in 1886 was a magnitude 7.6. That city in 2008 had a population in excess of 348,000. Much of that state's coastal area is at risk.

Both Hawaii and Alaska are in the red danger zone in terms of massive earthquakes, as well, experts maintain.

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