The next Katrina-sized disaster?

A lot of us know about what might happen to the Los Angeles area if – or when – the next big earthquake hits that area. However, there’s another city that is in perhaps even more danger.

The New Madrid fault in the central United States has produced a number of tremblors in the last several decades, several of which were higher than magnitude 4.0 on the Richter scale. Those are small compared to the estimated 8.0 magnitude quake of 1811-1812. “Large areas sank into the earth, new lakes were formed, the course of the Mississippi River was changed, and forests were destroyed over an area of 150,000 acres.”

Will it happen again? As with other major fault systems, it seems that it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when,” and Memphis, Tennessee might well be hit hardest.

The probability for an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or greater is significant in the near future, with a 50% chance by the year 2000 and a 90% chance by the year 2040. A quake with a magnitude equal to that of the 1811- 1812 quakes could result in great loss of life and property damage in the billions of dollars. Scientists believe we could be overdue for a large earthquake and through research and public awareness may be able to prevent such losses.

I’m sure Memphis is no different than other municipalities. Monies necessary to fund the necessary research and development of solutions to minimize casualties and damage is not likely to be readily available. Surely something can be done, however. The time to act is now, and not – as in the case of New Orleans – after the damage has already been done.

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