Dec. 14, 2018 – ST. LOUIS – With two earthquakes striking Tennessee Wednesday many are wondering if a big one will hit St. Louis.
Experts say it’s not a matter of if one will hit, it’s a matter of when.
In the next 50 years, there is a 25 to 40 percent chance of an earthquake magnitude six or higher hitting the region. There is a 7 to 10 percent chance of a magnitude seven or higher, as found by the United States Geological Survey.
It would affect an estimated 11 million people and more than half-dozen states that border the Mississippi River including Missouri and Illinois.
The earthquake in Alaska this morning serves as a reminder that something similar could happen here, along the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Do you and your family know what to do if it happened here? #EarthquakePreparedness pic.twitter.com/hgISiHyg4u
— St Louis County Police OEM (@StlCoOEM) November 30, 2018
Depending on the strength of the earthquake, experts say St. Louis could be severely damaged while Memphis could be wiped out. The St. Louis area has experienced minor earthquake damage at least 12 times in the past 205 years.
The ground could even liquify and turn to mud which is what happened more than a hundred years ago during “The Great Earthquake of New Madrid” in Missouri bootheel.
More than 200 years ago, New Madrid suffered through an earthquake from this seismic zone. The New Madrid Historical Museum, located in the Missouri Bootheel, has testimonies from people who experienced a series of three magnitude 7 earthquakes between 1811 and 1812.
One testimony is a letter sent by William Leigh Pierce to the editor of the New York Evening Post in 1811. It reads, “At New Madrid, 70 miles from the confluence of the Ohio, and on the right hand, the utmost consternation prevailed among the inhabitants; confusion, terror and uproar presided; those in the town were seen running for refuge to the country, whilst those in the country fled with like purpose towards the town. I am happy, however, to observe, that no material injury has been sustained.”
Should another earthquake of that magnitude hit, however, the damage would be considerably worse than it was 200 years ago.
I live about 100 miles from the New Madrid fault line, thankfully on the west side of it. There are 13 Fukushima-type reactors within 100 miles of that fault line. A meltdown at any single one due to major earthquake could fatally irradiate large swaths of the entire eastern US.
— Derrick Fogle (@h4x354x0r) December 14, 2018
“People in 1811 and 1812 were mostly self-sufficient,” Hempen says. “They built their own structures. If the structure was only damaged a little, they could repair it. If it was damaged a lot, they could stay with a neighbor until the community repaired it.” Today, of course, our lives are more complicated — and our edifices more elaborate.
Masonry buildings, those made with brick and mortar, are the most susceptible to earthquake damage.
“We have some specific issues in St. Louis,” Zamiran says. “One is that our buildings are more masonry buildings. So they are built with bricks, without any structural frames, without steel or concrete. They are very vulnerable.”
Hempen, however, notes that he lives in a masonry structure that was built in the 1950s and has accepted the risk. While earthquakes are a concern in the region, Hempen says they are not the only hazard people should prepare for.
“I think there is a variety of things people should do short of preparing structures and preparing renovations,” Hempen says. “There are many programs for all hazards. I think people should consider a variety of things. One is, do they have a hazard plan, an emergency disaster plan? If there is an evacuation, do they have an emergency list of what they should have?”