More than 200 years ago, a series of major earthquakes struck the Mississippi River Valley along the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Recent events remind us that damaging earthquakes can happen at any time.
With more than 40 million people living and working in the region today, a major earthquake would cause widespread damage and disruption. The New Madrid Seismic Zone stretches 150 miles southwest from Cairo, Illinois through New Madrid, Missouri into Northeastern Arkansas, crossing through five states.
Four of the largest earthquakes in U.S. history, with magnitudes estimated to be as high as 8.0, occurred within a three month period between Dec. 16, 1811 and Feb. 7, 1812.
This event released enough stored energy that it was able to change the course of the mighty Mississippi River and destroyed the entire town of New Madrid. Severe damage to buildings was reported in St. Louis, chimneys toppled in South Carolina, and the shock was felt as far away as New York, Boston, and Washington D.C, where it is said that church bells rang in their steeples. Luckily, there was little loss of life as the area was relatively uninhabited at the time.
In a November, 2008 report FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) warned that a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in “the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States” further predicting “widespread and catastrophic” damage across the seven state region.
Today, an earthquake of similar magnitude to the 1812 quake would destroy tens of thousands of structures and result in thousands of fatalities. Upwards of 7.2 million people would be displaced and approximately 2 million would be without shelter, primarily due to the lack of water and utilities. Direct economic losses could be in excess of $300 billion.
There are a number of major highways, railroads, power plants, police and fire stations, telecommunications facilities and other critical infrastructures that would be damaged or destroyed. Most of the natural gas and oil pipelines serving Chicago and Northern Illinois pass through this area and the equally threatening Wabash Valley Seismic Zone 120 miles away. The time to prepare is now.
The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut will involve more than 1 million people through a broad-based outreach program, partnership with the media, and public advocacy by hundreds of partners. This event is being organized by the Central United States Earthquake Consortium and the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
The ShakeOut will be centered around a simultaneous Drop, Cover, and Hold On drill that will be held at 10:15 a.m. CST on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012.
Drop, Cover, and Hold On is the easy to remember and recommended personal protective action to take in case of an earthquake.
The ShakeOut creates a sense of urgency that is needed for people, organizations, and communities to get prepared, to practice what to do to be safe, and to learn what plans need to be improved. The ShakeOut inspires communities to work together towards disaster preparedness.
What we do now before a big earthquake will determine what our lives will be like afterwards. With earthquakes an inevitable part of our future, we must act quickly to ensure that disasters do not become catastrophes.
For more information on earthquake preparedness, or to participate in local ShakeOut activities contact the Morton Grove Emergency Management Agency at (847) 965-1502 or visit www.shakeout.org/centralus.