Region 8 Earthquake Preparedness

June 29, 2006 - Posted at 4:19 p.m. CST

PARAGOULD, AR -- The New Madrid seismic zone runs from Marked Tree, Arkansas to Southern Illinois and produces about 200 small earthquakes a year.  Many we don't notice... but statistics show that a major earthquake of catastrophic proportions hits about every 500 years.  While there is no way to predict this natural disaster, just how prepared can we be?

"A lot of times we've felt those tremors and you've been sitting at your office and look up see the mirror shake and things like that and think 'Is this the big one?'" said Paragould mayor Mike Gaskill.

It could happen any day....the probability of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hitting Region 8 is between 7-10%.  It's a chance that may seem low.

"But for a magnitude 6.0 and greater, it's about a 25-40% probability," said Gary Patterson, Information Services Director for the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis.

Numbers one city isn't willing to gamble with.  Paragould has an emergency operation plan and while the city believes it is prepared for natural disasters like a tornado, responding to an earthquake could be much more difficult.

"It's tough not knowing when, not knowing how big, not knowing even if it's going to," said Gaskill, "So it's hard to plan for something like that, to try to think what could go wrong and let's see if we could fix it. And I don't know if it will happen until it can."

"You can do a lot of preparation, especially just talking to each other. What's our family plan?  Do we have some emergency supplies? And those things are good for any kind of emergency disaster, not just earthquakes," said Patterson.

There's been a lot of uncertainty about the New Madrid fault line and while there have been a lot of little tremors, the last big earthquake to hit was in 1895, it was a 6.7 in Charleston, Missouri.

"We can't predict them.  We know they occur repeatedly throughout the last 1500 years.  They could happen tomorrow, they could happen in 75 years," said Patterson.

Earthquakes are felt in the New Madrid region much less frequently than in California, despite the similar level of hazard.