Emergency planners not prepared for possible central U.S. earthquake: report

July 1, 2010

The New Madrid seismic zone could produce a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that likely would devastate parts of the Midwest, yet many emergency planners are not prepared, according to a report (.pdf file) released last week by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Some of the largest earthquakes in the country occurred in the New Madrid seismic zone in 1811 and 1812. Today, a massive earthquake would result in approximately 86,000 injuries and fatalities and damage to nearly 715,000 buildings and more than 3,500 bridges, according to the report.

Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri would be hardest hit, followed by Illinois and Kentucky. Direct economic losses would total nearly $300 billion, while indirect costs would be possibly twice that amount.

The study, commissioned by FEMA, identifies vulnerabilities and recommends improving infrastructure to potentially reduce the quake's impact.