New Madrid Earthquake Preparation Poses Unique Challenges

NOVEMBER 3, 2006 - Posted at 7:39 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS, MO - Dangerous earthquakes along the New Madrid fault in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas nearly 200 years ago were so powerful, there were accounts of the Mississippi River temporarily flowing backward and church bells ringing in Boston.  But quakes along the fault are not just the stuff of history.

Emergency responders, government and economic development officials from 17 states are meeting in St. Louis to discuss preparations for coping with major quakes along the fault in the future.  Scientists and others have warned another major quake could come with no warning.

Pete Johnson, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, said no one will have the kind of warning provided by the weather service in the case of major hurricanes like Katrina.  He said a major quake will come out of the blue, like the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Planning for earthquakes is different from many other disasters because such a large geographic area could be affected.  If a major New Madrid earthquake strikes, an area from Memphis, Tennessee, to St. Louis and hundreds of rural communities could be affected.

Jim Wilkinson, executive director of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium, said a major New Madrid quake could destroy buildings, bridges, roads and other infrastructure, disrupt communications and isolate areas.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)