November 20, 2008By Carey GillamReutersKANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - People in a vast seismic zone in the southern and midwestern United States would face catastrophic damage if a major earthquake struck there and should ensure that builders keep that risk in mind, a government report said on Thursday.The Federal Emergency Management Agency said if earthquakes strike in what geologists define as the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), they would cause "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States.
"FEMA predicted 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.
Tennessee is likely to be hardest hit, according to the study that sought to gauge the impact of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in order to guide the government's response.In Tennessee alone, it forecast hundreds of collapsed bridges, tens of thousands of severely damaged buildings and a half a million households without water.
Transportation systems and hospitals would be wrecked, and police and fire departments impaired, the study said.
The zone, named for the town of New Madrid in Missouri's southeast corner, is subject to frequent mild earthquakes.
Experts have long tried to predict the likelihood of a major quake like those that struck in 1811 and 1812. These shifted the course of the Mississippi River and rang church bells on the East Coast but caused few deaths amid a sparse population.
"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," said FEMA spokesperson Mary Margaret Walker.
The region of potential impact due to earthquake activity in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) is comprised of eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Moreover, the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone (WVSZ) in southern Illinois and southeast Indiana and the East Tennessee Seismic Zone in eastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama constitute significant risk of moderate-to-severe earthquakes throughout the central region of the USA.
Tennessee incurs the highest level of damage and social impacts. Over 250,000 buildings are moderately or more severely damaged, over 260,000 people are displaced and well over 60,000 casualties (injuries and fatalities) are expected. Total direct economic losses surpass $56 billion.
Missouri also incurs substantial damage and loss, though estimates are less than those in Tennessee. Well over 80,000 buildings are damaged leaving more than 120,000 people displaced and causing over 15,000 casualties. Total direct economic losses in Missouri reach nearly $40 billion.
Kentucky and Illinois also incur significant losses with total direct economic losses reaching approximately $45 and $35 billion, respectively.
Arkansas incurs nearly $19 billion in direct economic loss while the Mississippi incurs $9.5 billion in direct economic losses.
Indiana and Alabama experience limited damage and loss from NMSZ events with approximately $1.5 and $1.0 billion, respectively.
Economic loss due to business interruption and loss of market share, besides other factors, is at least as high if not much higher than the direct economic losses. The total economic impact of a series of NMSZ earthquakes is likely to constitute by far the highest economic loss due to a natural disaster in the USA.http://mae.cee.uiuc.edu/news/reportusa.html