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Kinds of damage that could result from a great earthquake in the central United States

Earthquake Information Bulletin (USGS)
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Abstract

In the winter of 1811-12 a series of three great earthquakes occurred in the New Madrid, Missouri seismic zone in the central United States. In addition to the three principal shocks, at least 15 other earthquakes of intensity VIII or more occurred within a year of the first large earthquake on December 16, 1811. The three main shocks were felt over the entire eastern United States. They were strong enough to cause minor damage cause minor damage as far away as Indiana and Ohio on the north, the Carolinas on the east, and southern Mississippi to the south. They were strong enough to cause severe or structural damage in parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. A later section in this article describes what happened in the epicentral region. Fortunately, few people lived in the severely shaken area in 1811; that is not the case today. What would happen if a series of earthquakes as large and numerous as the "New Madrid" earthquakes were to occur in the New Madrid seismic zone today?

The photographs accompanying this article show some typical structural damage that occurred during various earthquakes in the United States. Structural damage to buildings beings at intensity VIII in the Modified Mercalli intensity scale, a scale used for assigning numbers to earthquake effects. Minor or architectural damage (cracked plaster, windows, and chimneys) occurs at intensities VI and VII, and effects on people and small objects predominate at intensities below VI (earthquake felt, direction and duration noted, dishes broken and so forth).

The first four photographs show damage caused by intensity VIII and above. None of the damage shown in the photographs in this report occurred in earthquakes larger than the 1811-12 New Madrid shocks, and most of the examples are from considerably smaller shocks. The first two photos show damage to masonry buildings, mostly old and unreinforced, none designed to be earthquake resistant. How many such buildings are in use in your community? The second pair of photos show damage to modern structures close to the epicenter of a magnitude 6.5 earthquake, a small shock compared to the magnitudes (8.4-8.7) of the New Madrid earthquakes. 

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Kinds of damage that could result from a great earthquake in the central United States
Series title Earthquake Information Bulletin (USGS)
Volume 17
Issue 3
Year Published 1985
Language English
Publisher U.S Geological Survey
Description 14 p.
First page 84
Last page 97
Country United States
Other Geospatial Mississippi Valley
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N