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article imageCentral Mississippi area preparing for possible dangerous quake

By Carol Forsloff     May 6, 2011 in Environment
Events are being held this year and next to observe the 200th anniversary of the great 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes, in a region scientists tell us could see a catastrophe again as government officials prepare residents in the event of disaster.
Anniversary recognitions of the great 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes are being held in part to help residents prepare in the event earthquakes of the same devastating magnitudes occur again in the Central Mississippi area. Scientists tell us it is one of the most dangerous places in the world for seismic activity.
University educators in geography and geophysics have expressed concern that what happened many years ago could occur again. This is the background of the historical earthquake that occurred in the central Mississippi Valley during the winter of 1811-12, when the region was impacted by three of the most powerful earthquakes in the history of the United States, all in the range of 7.5-8.0, so powerful that it changed the course of the Mississippi.
According to reports from survivors, the earth literally cracked open, the ground rolled and large areas of land either sunk or rose. It was reported that the New Orleans steamboat on its maiden voyage moored itself on an island only to wake up the following morning to find the island had disappeared. Damage from the earthquake spanned the distance from the Central Mississippi areas around Tennessee to as far away as Charleston, South Carolina and Washington D.C.
Seismic activity continues to be high in the area. Scientists tell us the region has more earthquakes than any place east of the Rocky Mountains. So while Californians wonder when the earthquake will strike their state, it might be those people in the South may feel nature’s wrath in a big way before anything of similar magnitude hits the Northwest.
U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey have outlined on a map the centers of seismic activity in the Central Mississippi area. In the past seven days there have been reported 965 earthquakes in the in the United States, with the government agencies providing “shake maps” and earthquake reports on a regular basis. Whereas the larger zones for earthquakes reside in the States of Alaska, Hawaii and California, with a fault in the Pacific Northwest that runs along the Northwest section of the country, several of these are located in the central Mississippi Valley.
The potential of an earthquake in the Central Mississippi area is not without controversy. Some scientists believe that earthquake potential is much higher in the Pacific Northwest. The authors of a study conducted in 1999, led by geologist Seth Stein of Northwestern University, wrote that a large earthquake would not strike the region for at least 1,000 years. Other scientists have countered this some years ago by saying the model used by Stein was inappropriate. Shelley J. Kenner and Paul Segall published in the journal Science in 2000 a counter to Stein’s research, pointing out that Stein had used used earthquake-prediction models for California's San Andreas fault, which are not applicable to the New Madrid seismic zone that has what Segall maintained has a different type of fault system.
Segall also said, to underline the seriousness of the issues, "If you live in the New Madrid area, you may still have an earthquake problem," says Segall. "The most prudent thing for people to do is to prepare."
To underline the risks, the Central United Earthquake Consortium reports today on its website the efforts of the New Madrid Seismic Zone Catastrophic Planning Project. The project’s goal is said to “increase national readiness for a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). This multi-year, multi-agency initiative is the largest planning effort ever undertaken in United States History.”The Herald Times reports there are earthquake “drills” prior to some of the centennial events taking place this year.
In 2006 U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., announced in December that he had formed a New Madrid Earthquake Congressional Working Group with colleagues whose districts lie along the New Madrid Seismic zone extending through Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Illinois. At the time a working group was put together to help local communities with emergency plans in anticipation of a potentially dangerous earthquake.
"We simply cannot afford to let another natural disaster catch us off-guard," said Berry. "We know Arkansas sits on a dangerous fault line where the potential for disaster increases every day. Instead of standing around talking about this problem, we need to come up with a plan that prepares everyone for whatever lies ahead."
More about New Madrid earthquake, Central Missisippi region, history of earthquakes, Seismic activity, US earthquake zones
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