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What if the big one hits Midwest?

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

What would happen if a major earthquake hit the Midwest? It turns out one did – three, actually – exactly 200 years ago this month, with their epicenter in New Madrid, a frontier trading post in southeastern Missouri about 150 miles downriver from St. Louis.

A new report from AIR Worldwide risk modeling used the bicentennial of this rare "correlated triplet" event to explore what might happen if it were to reoccur today.

The first quake, magnitude 7.7, occurred Dec. 16, 1811. The second, a 7.5 jolt, hit Dec. 23. The third, again a 7.7, struck on Feb. 7, 1812.

The quakes wiped out New Madrid, caused significant damage to homes and structures in St. Louis and were felt as far away as Washington, D.C. They even caused church bells to ring in Charleston, S.C.

If the New Madrid quake were to hit today, the results would be far more calamitous. St. Louis, a jumping-off point for westward expansion with just 5,000 people back then, has a metro-area population of 2.9 million today. The surrounding regions, including Memphis, Tenn., Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., would bring the number of those affected to 7.2 million.

According to the Mid-America Earthquake Center, a recurrence could result in 3,500 fatalities, 86,000 injuries and 2 million people in need of immediate shelter. Electric power, water, sewage and home fuel systems could be out for weeks and even months because roads, rail lines, bridges and river traffic up and down the Mississippi would be extensively disrupted.

AIR estimates that the total insured losses of such an event would be $110 billion. Add on another $4 billion in workers' compensation losses if such a quake were to occur during working hours.

Fortunately, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is a 7 to 10 percent chance of a 7.0 magnitude quake hitting the Midwest within the next 50 years.

This year's 4.6 and 5.7 earthquakes in Oklahoma and the 5.8 quake in Mineral, Va., served as a reminder for many that most homeowners insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. Data from those quakes is being included with the New Madrid studies in the new seismic hazard maps being prepared by USGS for 2013.

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January 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Or worse still, the Republicans might win the election. That is the equivalent of a 9.7 earthquake disaster.

January 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Don't worry the world would not end until 2016 because we have a five year plan up to 2016. Look up the Bahai Faith for the five year plan.

Charles Cosimano
January 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

My God! We're all doomed! And a meteorite may hit us all on the head first!

Jerry Stauffer
January 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm

People talk about stockpiling. However, the odds are good you won't be home with your nice cozy supplies if anything does happen. We all know that if the disaster is big enough insurance won't pay. I've read about the 200 year ago quake. People thought judgement day had come.

Charles Licavoli
January 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm

There is also a big earthquake risk in South Carolina. In 1886, a 7.1 magnitude struck Charleston, SC. If that happened today, Cities like Charlotte and Atlanta would be effected.

January 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

"most homeowners insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage."

This is true, but easily remedied by asking your insurance company to tack on an earthquake rider. I'm paying an extra $20 per year for $150,000 of earthquake coverage.

January 13, 2012 at 9:51 am

Disaster preparedness is important.
In situations where there are millions of refugees or aid can't reach everyone right away a few days worth of food and water could save your life.
If everything shut down at once my family would be good for about two weeks.
Unaffected areas or mildly affected are usually within a few days walk.
Depending on someone to come and save you is childish and irresponsible.

steve johnson
January 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm

thank a look at the USGS eathquake map for North America
draw an imaginary line from Haiti to Vancouver Island Canada and another from the southern end of the Baja Peninsula to the tip of Nothern Maine...

The Activity along these to lines has been very active an growing more so over the last few months....

I am bid of a eathquake buff and have seen what a ppears to be a pattern. I have noticed whenever there are sizable earthquakes along the western Pacific side of central America that the activity along the above mentioned line picks up...

I believe the Pacific plate is actually pushing southern Mexico to the east... causing a pressure ridge along the haiti to vacouver line and a N.E trusting motion from Baja towards the tip of maine...

Don't know if this means a big one is coming or not... have just found it interesting to see how these north american quakes seem to pop up with in days or hours of the ones off the west coast of central america...


January 12, 2012 at 1:01 am

Just pray that who ever is in the White House will be willing to help all those who need it. Not another Katrina. Take out a good insurance policy, and make sure you have health insurance because you could be laid up for sometime. You don't want to hear the words "sorry I can't help" you'll just have to die.

Jim Warning
January 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I agree with what you are saying but the most important side effect of a quake might be in the coarse of the Mississippi, Ohio or Missouri rivers.