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“Study Paints Grim New Madrid Quake Scenario”

June 26th, 2010 · No Comments

A University of Illinois study commissioned by FEMA and just released publicly says the New Madrid seismic zone is capable of producing a massive earthquake that could devastate parts of the central United States — and notes the lack of preparedness for such an event.

According to a Chicago Tribune article on the study:

“I think everybody knows, as we saw things unfolding (in the study), that there are significant gaps in the preparedness for this type of earthquake,” the study’s lead author, University of Illinois professor Amr Elnashai said Friday. “FEMA will have a very clear idea of what is missing, and hopefully they will have some type to fill some gaps.”

FEMA is working toward holding a national-level disaster drill next year that simulates a big New Madrid quake. ”This comprehensive study has not only assisted in our planning and preparedness efforts, but should serve as a reminder to the public that disaster can strike at any time, and we all need to be prepared,” FEMA spokesman Bradley Carroll said in a statement.

The study was completed late last year but was just recently released. It focuses on Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, where the New Madrid seismic zone lies deep underground, as well as Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Indiana and Alabama.

The Tribune article continues:

The fault zone has a long history of big earthquakes, including four in 1811 and 1812 estimated to have been magnitude 7.0 or greater. The region was sparsely populated but the quake caused land slides and waves on the Mississippi that swamped boats; it also opened deep fissures in the ground. The shaking was felt as far away as New England.

The Illinois study assumed a magnitude-7.7 quake based on recommendations from the U.S. Geological Survey, Elnashai said. About 7.2 million people wouldn’t be able to live in their homes, at least not within a few days after the initial quake, and 2 million would temporary shelter.

“Many, many, many — maybe 80 percent — of the numbers you are seeing in the report would turn into long-term dislocation,” Elnashai said. The study also concluded that nearly 715,000 buildings would be damaged and 2.6 million households would be without electricity.

The study predicts extensive damage in both St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., the two largest cities near the fault zone. ”There are also disruptions of the transport system that we think will be debilitating,” he said. “(State and local governments) will need to fix and repair lots of bridges, more than we’re ready to handle.”

Utilities also are likely to struggle to find enough contractors to quickly repair what could be many substantial natural gas leaks, the study predicts.

The study urges state and local governments to retrofit hospitals, fire stations, police stations, nuclear power plants and other essential facilities to improve their odds of holding up in a big quake.

The study should be a planning tool for the affected states, Elnashai said. But he said it should also help convince state officials and the public that preparedness is worth considering and paying for, particularly during a recession.

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Tags: Earthquake Preparedness · Federal Emergency Management Administration · Preparedness Reports

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