JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In 1811-1812, Mississippi was devastated by an earthquake that registered 7.5 on the Richter scale. The Mississippi River flowed backward, and Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee was created when a void caused by the disaster filled up with water.
“It was felt up the eastern seaboard into New York City, Philadelphia, even up to Canada, so it was just a huge earthquake,” said retired Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham.
Scientists have said the risk of another earthquake on the New Madrid fault of the same size is 7 – 10 percent over the next 50 years. But...
“The likelihood of an earthquake on the New Madrid of a 6.0 is like 40-50 percent,” Latham said.
Earthquake strikes are the hardest to prepare for, officials say, especially where there has been no emphasis on preparedness or where the prevailing perception is that “it won’t happen here.”
“If the Mississippi River starts flowing backwards, nothing on this earth is going to be able to stop it so there’s no use for us to get caught up in the fear part of it,” said MEMA Communications Director Ray Coleman. “We need to deal with the reality that we have day to day that we take for granted, those things may not be around, so how are you going to do your day to day business.”
MEMA officials say they have carefully detailed plans about how the state would deal with the response to a catastrophic earthquake, but encourage people to look into insurance as well, since earthquakes are among the most difficult natural disasters to predict. So the state is as prepared as it’s able to be, facing a threat that hasn’t been dealt with in Mississippi in modern times. But Pearl insurance agent Eddie Coleman said that only about 1 in 15 clients of his choose to include earthquake insurance on their policies.
Is that because people don’t believe it’s a threat?
“Infrastructure is not necessarily built to earthquake standards in the central US," Latham said. "There’s been a really really big pushback in a lot of areas because they don’t want to get anybody panicky.”
“That’s a reality. Anytime that you have fault lines in your area, you’re in a vulnerable population," Coleman said. “In Mississippi, we may not be directly on the New Madrid fault lines, but at the end of the day we’re part of that, we’re a secondary threat. If you are near that line, you need to take it seriously.”
Coleman also reminded the state that just because the brunt of the seismic activity would take place in Northwest Mississippi, the entire state will be affected even if not by the tremors.
“It’s not like a tornado where if it just affects Desoto and Tunica County it just affects them. With this, we’re talking about major infrastructure collapse, so I-55 that runs all the way into Memphis, if that infrastructure is gone, then we’re talking about goods and services and legit transportation that can’t occur," Coleman said. "So if you’re thinking of all the goods and services that come from the northeast through Memphis on I-55, you’re not going to be able to receive those anymore so it’s going to impact you in a major way.”