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Friday
Mar112011

What Areas in the US Are At Risk for Earthquakes?

Jason Reed/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale struck Japan Friday, causing massive destruction and a death toll that reached over 300. The quake, the strongest ever to strike the country, caused a tsunami in the area and created massive amounts of damage. In the United States, the earthquake triggered tsunami warnings and advisories throughout the morning on the West Coast. The earthquake was reminiscent of the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti, killing thousands of people and leaving millions displaced.

"Earthquakes are a national hazard," David Applegate, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told ABC News.

People usually associate earthquakes with the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but 39 of the 50 states -- including New York and Tennessee -- have moderate to high seismic hazard risk, Applegate said.

The New Madrid fault in the central United States is particularly dangerous. The fault is among the most active in the country, running from St. Louis to Memphis. The New Madrid fault line is best known for some of the most violent earthquakes to ever hit the U.S: a series of four in 1811 and 1812. The quakes were estimated at magnitude 7.5 to 8.0, so strong the Mississippi River reportedly flowed backward. Damage occurred as far away as Washington, D.C., and Charleston, S.C.

Several small quakes were centered last month near the New Madrid fault in southeast Missouri, including some that were felt in parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. No damage was reported.

Another well-known fault line is located in New York City. It crosses Manhattan from the Hudson River to the East River, running approximately along 125th Street.

The Ramapo Fault, another New York Metro-area fault line, runs 70 miles through New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The fault has been quiet for about 200 years, which is part of the problem, seismologists say.

"We know in the future at some point an earthquake is going to occur but we don't really understand the rules of the game yet in this area, so we can't come with numbers and specifically tell you what the hazard is going to be," Leonardo Seeber, a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, said.

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