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Government Warns Of Earthquake In Southern, Midwestern US

November 21, 2008

A government report said on Thursday that people in a vast seismic zone in the southern and midwestern United States would face catastrophic damage if a major earthquake struck in the area.

The report also urged builders to keep that risk in mind when developing construction plans.

If earthquakes strike in what geologists define as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, they would cause the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A large earthquake would cause widespread and catastrophic physical damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee — home to some 44 million people, FEMA said.

The study sought to gauge the impact of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in order to guide the government’s response and predicted that Tennessee is likely to be hit the hardest.

In Tennessee alone, it forecast hundreds of collapsed bridges, tens of thousands of severely damaged buildings and a half a million households without water.

The study said transportation systems and hospitals would be wrecked, and police and fire departments impaired.

Mild earthquakes are known to frequent the zone, named for the town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeast corner.

The likelihood of a major quake like the ones that struck in 1811 and 1812, shifting the course of the Mississippi River and ringing church bells on the East Coast, are tough predictions to make, experts say.

FEMA spokesperson Mary Margaret Walker said people who live in these areas and the people who build in these areas certainly need to take into better account that at some time there is expected to be a catastrophic earthquake in that area.

“And they’d better be prepared for it.”

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