In the wake of two devastating earthquakes – Japan’s in March and Haiti’s early last year – there has understandably been renewed interest in being better prepared if that type of disaster happens here.
This coming winter will mark 200 years since a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid fault system literally shook the eastern half of the United States. They caused the Mississippi River to run backward, and were felt as far away as New York City and Boston.
The fault system includes a sliver of far Western Kentucky but lies mainly in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. The worst of its earthquakes in 1811-12 remains one of the largest ever to hit the continental United States. Nationwide, the biggest happened in Alaska in 1964, and it still is recognized as the second-strongest ever recorded, trailing only one in Chile in 1960.
Although there is no way of knowing when an earthquake might occur, or how severe it will be, officials across the region have long been fine-tuning preparations while making sure the public has a better understanding of what safety measures it should take.
This week, Kentucky and 10 nearby states are taking part in what is being called the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, which is like a fire or tornado drill but on a much larger scale. More than 2.6 million people have signed up to take part, and if you would like to learn more, visit online at www.shakeout.org/centralus. It’s scheduled to take place at 10:15 a.m. CDT on April 28.
Less than a month from now, meanwhile, an earthquake training exercise that has been in the planning stages since 2008 and is the largest of its kind will bring together first responders and state and federal officials alike from across the central U.S. They will walk through their plans to address the devastation a major New Madrid earthquake could cause.
All told, there are about 44 million people in an eight-state region who would be most affected; about 12 million are in the high-risk area.
In Kentucky, it’s estimated that a major earthquake could cause up to several hundred deaths and 6,500 injuries. About 235,000 people would need shelter, almost 330,000 homes would have no electricity and 76,000 would have no treated water. Nearly 70,000 buildings would be damaged.
To ensure we have as much knowledge beforehand as possible, state officials are playing a lead role in measuring seismic activity.