Study Says Earthquake's First Seconds May Reveal its Strength

NOVEMBER 9, 2005 - Posted at 3:46 p.m. CST

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The first few seconds of an earthquake may determine just how damaging it's going to be.  And it's the kind of heads-up that could save lives.

Currently, a quake's magnitude is determined after the ground stops shaking.  But scientists have found a way to estimate an earthquake's ultimate strength by analyzing the initial seconds of a rupture.

Researchers from California-Berkley say those first few seconds could indicate whether the quake is major or minor.

The estimate may only provide people with a few seconds of warning.  But researchers say that might be enough time for school children to take cover, for power generators to trip off and for valves to shut on pipelines.

The research appears in today's issue of the journal Nature.

Much of northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri lie in the New Madrid Fault Zone, the site of two of North America's most powerful quakes, in 1811 and 1812.  The New Madrid Fault line generally runs from Marked Tree to Cairo, Illinois.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)