Mississippi Delta earthquake: America's Haiti waiting to happen?
Scientists predict a Haiti-magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid fault during the next 50 years. The fault runs under the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest parts of the US.
Little Rock, Ark.
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In 1811 and 1812, the New Madrid fault zone that zig zags through five states shook so violently that it shifted furniture in Washington, D.C., and rang church bells in Boston. The series of temblors changed the course of the Mississippi River near Memphis, and historical accounts claim the river even flowed backward briefly.
Geologists consider the New Madrid fault line a major seismic zone and predict that an earthquake roughly the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake (7.0 on the Richter scale) could occur in the area during the next 50 years.
That forecast is of particular concern because the New Madrid zone sits beneath one of the country’s most economically distressed areas – the Delta. In many counties in the Mississippi Delta, the poverty level is triple the national average.
Moreover, the area is comparatively less prepared to deal with a huge earthquake than are other seismically active areas in the US, says Mark Ghilarducci, vice president of James Lee Witt Associates, a crisis and emergency management consulting company in Washington.
“There have not been enough resources applied for retrofitting that there could be,” Mr. Ghilarducci says. “I would like to see far more retrofit programs, strengthening of buildings, especially masonry buildings, tying down bridges. That builds resiliency in a community.”
Efforts to prepare
Neither the federal government nor local governments are unaware of the threat.
Numerous interstate task forces and coalitions have organized over the last decade to prepare for a castrophoric earthquake. Education programs focused on survival kits and family disaster planning occur yearly in states. Yet, experts say, few families have kits in their homes.
Last November, the Obama administration’s Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group held five stakeholder meetings around the country, including Memphis. They solicited input on how “to improve long-term disaster recovery with a particular focus on catastrophic disasters.”