A big earthquake in the region could lead to the highest losses from a natural disaster in the US

Areas nearest the New Madrid seismic zone would experience widespread and catastrophic physical damage, social disruption and economic losses in the event of a Magnitude 7.7 earthquake along the fault. A series of earthquakes in the zone, as occurred in the early 19th century, is likely to lead to the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States, according to a report published in November by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The report, Impact of Earthquakes on the Central USA, presents the findings of a two-year study which considered three different earthquake events: one for each segment of the New Madrid Fault - northeast, central and southwest. Devastating earthquakes have long been predicted for the New Madrid region, which includes areas of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

The report provides state-specific information, including damage levels by building and occupancy type, essential facilities, highway bridges, electric power and communications facilities, and pipeline damage where appropriate. It also identifies the counties that could be expected to sustain the most damage in each state and provides information on potential interruptions of utility services and effects on essential facilities.

The study was conducted for FEMA by the Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center at the University of Illinois, in partnership with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), the US Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management.

The study is available for download at http://mae.ce.uiuc.edu.