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200 Years After the New Madrid Earthquakes: Time for More

By Sandra Knispel | Published 02 Feb 2012 10:25pm | comments
Experts say the New Madrid seismic zone (marked in red) is likely to experience another major earthquake within the next 100 years, or sooner.

Exactly 200 years ago, a series of strong earthquakes hit an area stretching from Illinois – all the way down to Mississippi. Experts say that the likelihood of another major quake is rising steadily, assuming one earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone to happen at least every 300 years. MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports.

"Geologists pretty well agree that the longer we go without a major earthquake in the central U.S. – the more likely we are,” says Robert Latham.

And when it happens – remember the earthquake mantra of “stop, drop and hold on" – that is to the leg of a sturdy table under which you should crouch. But that alone might not suffice. Robert Latham, is the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA.

“So, you know what we’ve got to do is start building a new culture of preparedness in this country.”

Back in 1812, when a series of magnitude 7 earthquakes hit in what is now known as the New Madrid seismic zone, the area was sparsely populated. If a similar earthquake were to hit the central U.S now, with major cities in its path, experts say the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina would pale by comparison.

“The transportation corridors, East-West, North-South, rail, highway, air, FedEx -- all of those are in the central U.S. I mean it could bring this country to its knees," worries Latham. "So, what we’ve got to do is focus on the real risk and start building a preparedness at the individual, family and community level.”

Part of being prepared means to secure heavy shelves to walls, to strap down your water heater to keep it from tipping over and causing a fire, and to know where to turn off utilities quickly. University of Mississippi Civil Engineering Professor Chris Mullen even suggests calling in an expert to check your home for weak spots.

“In the case of large, force-type events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes and strong winds, there are things you can do to the structure of your home that will give it resistance to the forces of those events," says Mullen. "I would suggest, if you have not already, [to] have a structural engineer look at the condition of your building.”

Now might be a good time to look into adding earthquake insurance to your homeowner's insurance. For more tips on how to prepare for an earthquake go to the website of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency at

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.


Experts say the New Madrid seismic zone (marked in red) is likely to experience another major earthquake within the next 100 years, or sooner.



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