USGS Map: Could a Japan-Sized Disaster Occur in Memphis?

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Catastrophic quakes can (and do) happen in the U.S. — and not just on the West Coast.

A seismic map released by the United States Geological Survey shows that 39 out of 50 states have a moderate to high risk of earthquakes, bringing realism to concerns that such a large-scale disaster could happen in America.

While the majority of earthquake-prone areas lie in the West, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii, this chart points out an area of middle America that is particularly dangerous, and if an earthquake struck, could affect up to 15 million people in eight states.

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The ‘New Madrid’ fault line lies between St. Louis and Memphis, and was the site of some of the worst quakes ever to hit the U.S. In 1811 and 1812, a series of three large earthquakes (and subsequent aftershocks) rocked Missouri, damaging almost 232,000 square miles of land and creating complex physiographic changes, according to the USGS.

It’s said that these quakes were so powerful that they were widely felt across the East Coast, including in New York City, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina. Fortunately, few people lived in the area during this time. But if a similar episode was to occur today, it could devastate a significant part of the country.

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Even more frightening: a 2009 USGS report showed that this area is wholly unprepared for a major earthquake, in terms of both planning and infrastructure, and a total of 15 nuclear power plants also exist within the fault zone. With more than 200 small earthquakes happening in this area per year, experts fear it’s only a matter of time until a big one hits. (via The Daily Mail)