Friday, November 05, 1999

Big earthquake in Midwest's future

Study reaffirms New Madrid peril

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Though far from the earthquake-prone West Coast, the middle of the United States could well experience its own “big one” sometime in the next 500 years, a new study says.

        The study found that a major quake focused on the New Mar did fault zone would cause only modest damage to cities but could destroy Mississippi River levees.

        “Our evidence shows that the New Madrid seismic zone is indeed a threat,” said Karl Mueller, a geologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is first author of a study appearing today in the journal Science.

        Mr. Mueller said movement in the fault zone is enough to produce a 7.2 magnitude earth quake every 500 years, or a 7.5 magnitude quake every 1,000 years.

        The Reelfoot fault zone extends from the Missouri bootheel, the southeast corner of the state, into west Tennessee. The New Madrid zone angles up from Arkansas, through the edge of Missouri and Tennessee, and into Kentucky. A quake similar to those which occurred along the fault in 1811 and 1812 — estimated at force 7.5 — could cause some damage in Memphis and St. Louis, said Mr. Mueller, but even more to the levees that hold the Mississippi within its banks.

        A study published earlier this year, based on satellite measurements, concluded that earthquake hazard from the New Madrid was virtually nil.

        Joan Gomberg of the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Louis said that the official estimate of earthquake hazard from the New Madrid is neither zero nor as high as Mr. Mueller predicts.


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