recover, scientists say people in Tennessee need to get ready for their
own tremor. FOX17's Erika Kurre shows us the real threat we're facing
here in the Midstate, and why it's called "The Big One".
"It's...catastrophic," says TEMA Director Jim Bassham.
Thousands dead, many still remain missing after the earth-shattering 9.0 tremor in Japan.
A 6.3 magnitude in February is New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster
in 80 years, and you may even remember the Chilean earthquake of 2010,
registering an 8.8 on the Richter Scale. Of those, scientists in
Tennessee compare the damage in Chile to what could happen here, based
on predictions of earthquake size and similarities in building
construction and infrastructure.
"We expect we'll have 1200 bridges destroyed in Tennessee," says Bassham.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is planning for homes and
buildings to be heavily damaged. Scientists predict about 2000 people
across the state could be killed.
"It could happen tomorrow, it could happen 100 years from now," says University of Memphis CERI Geologist Gary Patterson.
There's no real way to predict the exact time of an earthquake, but geologists and emergency management crews know from monitoring the New Madrid seismic zone, our time is running out.
"This circle here," says Tasha, a TEMA worker, "This is the region we're most concerned with."
This circled area consists of 8 states in the central U.S., including Tennessee.
It's a region centered around the New Madrid fault line, stretching
from Eastern Arkansas, past Memphis and up into Missouri. Below the
ground, it's very detailed.
"This is the fault that stretches toward Memphis," explains Patterson.
Each dot represents an earthquake and where it happened in the past
year. This area, just a couple hundred miles from the Midstate, is the
most active seismic area in Eastern North America, this side of the
"We have about 200 earthquakes per year, 95-98% of those are too small to be felt by humans," says Patterson.
These TEMA monitors show every movement. The small earthquakes, the time
they hit and their locations are marked in colored squares. Blue
represents those that happened in the last day. Yellow represents those
in the last week. Scientists also use Richter Scales and larger versions
of these devices as they study what's to come. Some of this technology
is so sensitive that something as simple as a foot step can be measured
on a Richter Scale. These are constant watch points for monitoring,
especially now that we've entered the year 2011.
"Within every 200-500 years, the plates are going to erupt along that
seismic zone," says Bassham. "And it's been 200 years since 'The Big
The big one Bassham is talking about is the 7.0 magnitude or greater
earthquake that shook the central U.S. in 1811-1812. These sketches show
personal accounts of what the Earth looked like afterword, before an
estimated 14 million people lived in this seismic zone. It's also the
same earthquake that enlarged Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake, north of
Memphis, creating the largest natural body of water in the state. Still
today, Cypress trees and stumps line the banks and break through the top
of the water, marking where they once grew before being submerged by
the quake. Add millions more people, built-up infrastructure and modern
construction to a quake like this today, the damage and recovery will
require more resources than exist here, calling for help beyond the
"We will be bringing international aid into this country," says Bassham. "Probably for the first time."
It's something TEMA has spent years planning for, and already has
agreements for shelter, helicopter transportation and boots on the
ground. Most in the Midstate will likely lose power, communication, even
the necessities like food and water will be hard to come by immediately
after an event like this. Though Nashville's skyline is not expected to
change, the city and all those not severely damaged will be among
places acting as shelter and distribution points.
"It will certainly be a very very hard and trying time with a lot of casualties and losses," says Patterson.
"You're not ever ready for an earthquake of that magnitude," says
Bassham. "What you have to do is be as ready as you know how to be and
as ready as you can afford to be."
Bassham says every household should have an emergency plan and store
enough food and water for 4-5 days. Also have a communication plan or
meeting point in case you're separated. Tomorrow millions of Americans
will practice the "Great Central U.S. Shake-Out" drill, preparing for a
quake along the New Madrid faultline.
Thursday, April 28 2011, 12:41 AM CDT
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