Everyone talks about the “big one” – a major earthquake predicted to impact California in the near future. Yet, a little known fault line in the Midwest is long overdue for a major earthquake.
The San Andreas Fault may be more famous, but the New Madrid Seismic Zone is six times larger and as dangerous. The 150-mile long fault has the potential to cause a major catastrophic earthquake affecting seven states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
The U.S. Geological Survey has admitted that the New Madrid Seismic Zone has the “potential for larger and more powerful quakes than previously thought.”
The Mid-America Earthquake Center at the University of Illinois released a report, which suggested the effects of a 7.0 or larger earthquake in the area.
Amr Elnashai, the report’s lead author says,
All hell with break loose.
In a report filed in November 2008, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned that a major earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in “the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States.”
That’s an understatement. Experts claim that 715,000 buildings could be damaged, including 130 hospitals and 15 nuclear power plants. Buildings along this fault line are not typically constructed to withstand earthquakes. Over 15 major bridges would be wiped out, disrupting travel. About 7.2 million people would be displaced with 86,000 injured or killed. The aftermath would require 42,000 search and rescue personnel. A minimum of $300 billion in economic impact is estimated. The greatest threat is from the Mississippi River.
James Wilkinson, director of the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium says,
The thing that, to me, makes the river scary is how much industry we have along it: there’s power plants, there’s chemical plants, there’s ports. So if the levees are already jeopardized either by overtopping or saturation, where the water’s been there for quite a while, and then you get a shake to it? You know, the river’s just gonna take the path of least resistance. And who knows whether that’s right through the communities. The clock is ticking.
The last significant earthquake actually rerouted the Mississippi River. In the winter of 1811-1812, three 7-7.7 magnitude earthquakes hit the area with a series of aftershocks. It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts where church bells rang from the earth movement.
Scientists estimate the probability of a 6.0 magnitude or larger earthquake happening in the New Madrid Seismic Zone within any 50-year period as 25%-40%. However, an earthquake may hit the Mississippi Valley at any time. The seismic zone has caused so much concern that there is a website devoted to it’s earth activity.
A whole lot of shaking may be going on!