Jan 27 2010

Cities Entering 2010 Overdue for an Earthquake: Port au Prince, Memphis, Seattle, St. Louis, Charleston, Salt Lake

Port au Prince entered 2010 overdue for a major earthquake.  So did a number of other U.S. cities and communities–and not just those in California.  Try St. Louis, Seattle, Charleston, Memphis, Salt Lake City, and New England.

Reports WSB Radio:

The earthquake that struck Haiti two weeks ago was the strongest in that country in more than 200 years.

The 7.0 magnitude quake devastated the capital city of Port au Prince and may have killed upwards of 200,000 people.

So, could a similar quake hit in the U.S?  It's possible and in places you might not imagine.

We all know about California and major earthquake faults near San Francisco and Los Angeles.  They've been waiting for "The Big One" since 1906, when San Francisco was nearly destroyed.

But other American cities, some not that far from Atlanta, are also in danger of a massive quake, and those cities are not that prepared in case one hits.

So…what cities are overdue for a major earthquake? 

  • Charleston, SC, which in 1886 experienced a damaging 7.3 magnitude earthquake
  • St. Louis, MO and Memphis, TN, which experienced 7.7+ magnitude earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 that rerouted the Mississippi River, created a lake, and rang bells as far away as Boston
  • Seattle, WA
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • New England
  • Southern Canada
  • Concludes says Dr. Glenn Rix, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech:
  • "In older cities, east coast cities, like St. Louis and Memphis, there are these older buildings, in many cases unreinforced masonry or brick buildings, that are very prone to damage during an earthquake," Rix says.

    Building codes are supposed to meet certain standards concerning seismic activity.  But, Rix says, in some cities, especially Memphis, those codes haven't been adopted for new buildings, and retrofitting hasn't been done for older ones.

    "There is a resistance to adopt modern seismic building codes that will increase the chances that a building will survive an earthquake," Rix says.  "And, if people are unwilling to adopt seismic building codes for new construction, they're probably even less willing to incur the expense of retrofitting these older structures to make them more seismically resistant."

    Engineering advances have enabled building designers to create structures that are intended to save lives, even at the cost of the building itself.

    "The seismic code provisions that we have here in the United States, what are they intended to do?" asks Rix rhetorically.  "They're intended to protect life safety.  What they are not intended to prevent is damage to the building.  Those are two different things.

    "We could have a building that is heavily damaged and is, essentially, unusable, but did not collapse and kill people," Rix says.  "That's the goal.  So, here in the United States, we've done a good job of developing these codes with life safety in mind."

    "It's our great hope that a large earthquake, near a U.S. city would have a minimal loss of life because the code was intended to specifically prevent the loss of a large number of lives through building collapses, like we're seeing in Port au Prince," he says

    As for the threat of a massive quake hitting near Seattle, or Salt Lake City, or St. Louis, or Charleston, or Memphis, Rix, and others, believe it's not a question of if, but when.

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