Little-known U.S. Fault Lines Cause For Seismic Concern About Potential Earthquakes

Millions of Americans do, U.S. ill-prepared to handle quakes in Midwest.

ByABC News
March 15, 2011, 12:26 PM

March 15, 2011 -- Would the citizens of Memphis be surprised to know they live along a major fault line? As the nation focuses on the horrors of the earthquake in Japan, many Americans may not be aware that the San Andreas fault line running along the West Coast is not the only region of the U.S. facing risk of catastrophic earthquakes.

And the United States is ill-prepared to cope with catastrophic earthquakes and disasters in general, according to government reports prepared over the past several years. Here is a look at areas of seismic concern located within the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano talked to ABC News about disaster preparedness today in Denver. See that interview HERE.

The New Madrid fault line is centered in the central part of the country and could affect more than 15 million people in eight states. (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.) But the roughly 1 million people in the metro Memphis, Tenn., region are considered by the U.S. Geological Survey to be at greatest risk from a quake of 7.0 or 8.0. According to an August 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey the potential impact could be devastating.

The report predicts that a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line could lead to catastrophic loss of life, including for children and first responders. This part of the country appears unprepared in terms its capacity for buildings and infrastructure to survive a big quake. The last big quake to hit the New Madrid fault was a series of four in 1811 and 1812. Those are estimated to have been between 7.0 and 8.0 in magnitude and made the Mississippi flow backwards.

"Memphis has an aging infrastructure, and many of its large buildings, including unreinforced schools and fire and police stations, would be particularly vulnerable when subjected to severe ground shaking," according to the report.