Anniversary of New Madrid earthquake prompts seminar on emergency preparedness

7:39 PM, Feb 5, 2010   |    comments
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By Mike Owens

KSDK -- Just weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, hundreds of experts are meeting in St. Louis, talking about earthquake preparedness. The meeting was set up long ago, to coincide with the anniversary of the big quake in New Madrid Missouri on February 7, 1812.

That quake was 7.7 on the Richter scale, according to scientists who have studied it for years. The legend at the time, church bells rang in Boston because of the Missouri quake.

Also this weekend, experts are looking at a new study about the impact of earthquakes, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA wanted to know how much damage, and how widespread, would be caused by a 7.7 quake Friday.

The results are pretty bleak. Memphis Tennessee would be severely hit, with many of its unreinforced masonry buildings collapsed. That's because Memphis is so close to the supposed epicenter of the quake.

St. Louis, according to study manager Tim Gress of the University of Illinois, would fare a bit better, thanks to distance.

Gress says there would be substantial structural damage to buildings in the St. Louis area, particularly in areas near the river.

Gress says the issue is liquefaction, in which certain soils, especially those near rivers, turn to liquid when shaken by a quake. Gress thinks the big quake could cause some older buildings in downtown St. Louis to tilt or sink because of liquefaction.

As for preparedness, there were lots of hard hats and flashlights on hand at the seminar at St. Louis University.

However, a seminar manager says that the best thing to do to prepare for a quake is to make a plan with your family of how to get out of the house, and more importantly, where to meet up if you are all separated.

No one at the seminar would predict the next quake in the New Madrid fault zone. Gress would only offer a 7 to 10 percent chance over the next 25 to 50 years.

Another expert says there are quakes every month from New Madrid, but most are too gentle to be felt.

KSDK

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