Image: New Madrid seismic Zone
A 3.5 earthquake hit in Missouri today (09/09/16). It struck in the New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ). Now a 3.5 isn’t that bad…but in the NMSZ it could presage disaster.
We constantly hear about California getting hit by ‘The Big One’ if the San Andrea pops, but the New Madrid fault , and the zone around it which is criss-crossed for hundreds of miles by connected faults, is a full six times larger than the San Andreas fault.
The New Madrid runs for more than 130 miles, from Cairo Illinois to Marked Tree in Arkansas with the upper end of it lying beneath the Mississippi Delta.
The ground composition makes the NMSZ prone to VERY destructive earthquakes as it is made up of swathes of loosely packed material, unconsolidated materials such as gravel, silt and sand. Mixing water with any or all of these substances, as would be the case along almost the whole length of the New Madrid fault and liquefaction will occur. `liquefaction is when the shaking of the earth causes the water in the soil mediums to come to the surface. Buildings simply float off and topple over, or sink, often, completely intact.
It’s rare to see liquefaction in action…it is after all unsafe to be standing there filming a building that might fall on top of you at any time…I did however find this…thought to have been filmed in Japan.
Three major quakes have hit the New Madrid:
- December 16, 1811 a magnitude 7.5
- January 23, 1812 a magnitude 7.3
- February 7, 1812 a magnitude 7.5
All three quakes produced aftershocks but the 1811 temblor produced the worst, six of them in two days ranging from a 5.5 to a 6.3.
Hundreds of lower magnitude earthquakes occurred in the same area throughout 1813, this is not uncommon after major earthquakes
Geological studies show that the NMSZ has repeatedly produced earthquakes in the 7-8 magnitude range over the last 4,500 years.
In the 19th century the NMSZ was populated, but relatively sparsely in comparison to today. In fact FEMA estimate that the same magnitude of quake today could displace almost 7 million people and destroy 15 major road bridges. There is also concern about the 15 nuclear power stations in the area. For reference the majority of them are the same design as the Fukushima plant which proved itself to be particularly prone to earthquake damage.
FEMA Associate administrator William Carwile told a Congressional panel in 2010:
“7.2 million people could be displaced, with 2 million seeking temporary shelter” in the first three days. Direct economic losses for the eight states could total nearly $300 billion, while indirect losses at least twice that amount.”
Carwille estimated that 42,000 search and rescue personnel would be required, in the event of a real quake. (source)
Paul Stockton, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs told the Aspen security Forum in 2011:
“Electric power would go out, not for days, but for weeks and months in the four state region,” he said. “Municipal water systems, they all run on electricity, don’t they? Well, people are gonna get thirsty. You need water for firefighting, don’t you? Second, all gasoline pumps run on electric power. Same with diesel fuel. So in terms of road mobility, of getting the relief forces in, and evacuating people out — no gasoline? The cascading failures go on and on.” (source)
7.2 million displaced people across a wide area. Roads and bridges will be damaged or unusable.15 nuclear plants may not only be damaged, but will not be getting the fuel deliveries they need to keep the water pumping that cools the core of the reactors and keeps the spent rods at the right temperature.
I have put a link in to a list of all countries with a population smaller than the projected number of displaced persons in the NMSZ following a high magnitude quake…seeing the list brings home just how many people 7.2 million is. There are 114 entire countries that have a population of 7.2 million people.
Sadly scientists cannot predict when a fault line will produce a major quake so it’s impossible to even think of evacuating people before an event. Evacuating them afterwards…with families split between home, work and school. Buildings down, gas and water pipes burst and many roads impassable is going to be impossible. Aftershocks will add to the carnage, confusion and fear.
I cannot comprehend how even the best plans could cover dealing with so many injured and displaced people, we are actually talking about the population of an entire country…like moving the every person in Serbia (7,163,976) to a different area. Can you imagine dealing with the entire population of Paraguay (6,802,295) at the same time?
As Paul Stockton said “people will be thirsty” They will be hungry as well. they will be desperate and desperate people do desperate things. There will be riots, what food and water remains accessible will be gone in minutes rather than hours.
Those that can will move out from the affected areas into neighbouring counties and some may either cross state lines. Most will have no identification papers and little money. They will own what they have managed to take with them, for many that will be nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
Typhus will appear quite quickly, it always does in such situations. The little lice will be in the seams and linings of the clothing the displaced are wearing, in the fibres of the blankets they may be lucky enough to have. Pediculus corporis, the louse that spreads typhus is always there…but good hygiene and regular showers and laundry washing keeps them out of our everyday lives. Not so in situations where these everyday activities are no longer possible.
The fracturing of sewage pipes will increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks associated with faecal contamination.
Medical facilities will be unable to cope either because of damage they have sustained or because they are overwhelmed by the injured. Triage will see those with little chance of survival left to die. Other will die of relatively minor injuries as wounds become infected and there are no dressings or antibiotics to be found.
Areas unaffected by the quakes will be inundated with strangers…broke, hungry, louse infested strangers. Makeshift camps on the edges of unaffected towns will spring up, built of whatever the refugees can find or steal, hostilities will flare up on a regular basis.
Chaos will reign far from the disaster zone.
This is the stuff nightmares are made of…and sadly it’s not if, it’s when.