Earthquake study says mid-Mo. will see little damage

A recent study at the University of of Illinois set damage estimates for Missouri from a major earthquake near Memphis. The Mid-America Earthquake Center predicts about 800 fatalities, $37 billion in economic loss, and more than 120,000 people displaced. Researchers and state officials say the outlook for those of us in the Heart of Missouri is much brighter.

When an earthquake erupts along the New Madrid fault, scientists say the damage will be greatest in Missouri's bootheel. They say mid-Missouri will see fairly insignificant damage.

"That being damage to interior, non-structural walls like drywall or small cracks in old brick facades; possibly some damge to chimneys that are brick as well," said Mid-America Earthquake Center researcher Lisa Cleveland.

The earthquake center's latest study suggests no more than 25 casualties and no more than 50 displaced residents in central Missouri. And damage to highway bridges and electric power facilities is highly unlikely.

Some State Emergency Management Agency, or SEMA, predictions show more damage in Cole, Osage, Boone, Callaway, and Howard counties because of their proximity to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the types of soils that make up those river beds.

There are some characteristics that make earthquake damage forecasts for central Missouri difficult. First, the type of bedrock we sit on and how easily waves of energy travel through them.

"Out on the West Coast, its broken up quite a bit from numerous earthquakes and ruptures of the ground, but because the seismic activity here has been small or moderate for quite some time, the bedrock is still relatively cohesive so it can travel much farther through those large plates of rock," said Cleveland.

Also making predictions difficult: the number of old, unreinforced buildings still in use in mid-Missouri..

"They have earthquakes every few years that are of a moderate to major size so the old buildings that don't fair very well, they're kind of weeded out and newer, stronger, more flexible buildings have replaced them," said SEMA Earthquake Program Manager Steve Besemer. "While in our area, we've got buildings 40, 50, 60, 100 years old on town squares."

Both Besemer and Cleveland say people should keep in mind that these are only predictions. They say because of the little amount of data collected from the large-scale New Madrid quakes in 1811 and 1812, estimates and forecasts can always be off.

SEMA's Earthquake Program Manager says Hurricane Katrina prompted emergency response officials to reassess all disaster plans, including those for an earthquake, and urge officials at the local level to get more specific in their plans.

Experts at the U.S. Geological Survey say there is a seven to ten percent chance of a large-scale earthquake erupting along the New Madrid fault within the next 50 years. A more moderate earthquake is much more likely, with a 25 to 40 percent chance of occuring in the next 50 years.

Officials say despite mid-Missouri likely seeing little damage from a New Madrid earthquake, we should all prepare our home and family for the disaster. Follow the links below for more information about home preparedness kits and what to do to ready your home or business.